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Oil sands worker fired after blog post on ‘inhuman’ conditions

An electrician in Alberta’s oil sands says he was fired after blogging about “inhuman” living conditions at several work camps north of Fort McMurray.

“It’s a complete freedom of speech issue,” Mike Thomas told the Tyee.

The contracted labourer spent several weeks at two camps operated by Suncor Energy, one of the biggest and most profitable producers in Alberta’s oil sands. He characterized the Mackenzie camp at Firebag as “rotten”, one of the worst in the whole industry.

Here workers are served “4 day old leftovers” for lunch and breakfasts “of a very questionable quality,” Thomas wrote in his blog. He noted that one commonly available meat sandwich contained nearly three grams of salt.

“People have heart attacks, they have strokes, they put on 60 pounds,” he told the Tyee.

Broken down gym equipment, bad internet and filthy laundry facilities were also issues. Weeks later, Thomas took video of shower-heads covered in “green slime and rust” at the Voyageur camp at Suncor Firebag.

“What we have is the absolute bare minimum that any company can get away with providing without having some kind of riot,” he wrote.

Shortly after this last post, Thomas’ employer, contractor Aecon Lockerbie & Hole, phoned to tell him he’d been fired. It appears the decision came from Suncor itself.

“We advised the employer that the individual would not be admitted to our site,” spokesperson Brad Bellows told the Tyee.

At issue was that Thomas used recording equipment in contravention of official policy. Suncor bans photographic and video recordings on its worksites to protect “proprietary or commercial” information.

But the two camps described by Thomas were close enough to Suncor’s Firebag operation to be considered part of the overall operating environment.

“These are people’s homes,” Bellows said. “We don’t think it’s unreasonable to make the commitments to the guests that their privacy is going to be protected from cameras and recording devices.”

A comment from Suncor posted on Thomas’ blog says the company is currently making improvements to both camps. (Click here to read an in-depth Tyee report about the challenges facing workers in Alberta’s oil sands.)

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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