Company president and CEO Mark Ward told hundreds of employees assembled in a hall at the Shaw Conference Centre that none of them would lose their job because of the temporary shutdown. They would also continue to collect their paycheques, said workers who attended the meeting.
“Our CEO did an absolutely amazing job,” said Rose Gray, a heavy equipment operator at the Aurora mine. “My heart went down when he said no layoffs and we were still going to get our pay and that they’re standing behind us. It is absolutely amazing to know we work for a company who is actually standing behind us and looking for us.”
“That’s the most important thing that we could have ever wanted to hear, that we have our jobs. They’re not taking any chances and making sure that we’re safe and asking us to make sure we take care of our health. So when everything is up and running, we’ll all be able to go back to work.”
When Gray heard the wildfire changed directions and forced thousands to flee industry work camps Monday, she feared the worst about her job. “When I heard the news this morning about what happened, it set back everything and I’m like, what are we are going to do? We have mortgages to pay.”
Chris Joyce, a mining inspector, said he was also relieved.
“It’s a bit reassuring to know that they’re maintaining support for us, and it looks like it’s going to be for a while,” Joyce said. “There are no plans of laying people off, which is reassuring for a lot of people when you don’t know. Everybody’s going to be paid for the foreseeable future, they’re saying, because they’re looking at a long-term investment in us.”
Employees weren’t told when Syncrude would restart operations, Joyce said. “They have no idea right now. It’s all depending on the fires.”
Oilsands miners, including Syncrude and Suncor, had been gradually returning staff to the area to begin the process of restarting production at facilities undamaged by fire but shut down because of the threat, but Monday’s evacuations postponed their plans.
Syncrude spokesman Will Gibson said more than 200 workers were moved twice Monday, from a work camp to its Mildred Lake mine north of Fort McMurray, then by bus to Edmonton when the evacuation order was extended to Mildred Lake.
“They were part of our team that was looking to safely restart our operation,” he said.
About 100 employees were left to maintain and stabilize operations at Mildred Lake and Syncrude’s Aurora mine site 35 kilometres farther north, Gibson said.
In an update on its website Tuesday, Suncor said it was moving personnel from work camps and its base plant to other lodges farther north. It had started a staged and orderly shutdown of base plant operations and would continue implementing the restart when safe.
Deputy chief economist Pedro Antunes of the Conference Board of Canada said the wildfire setback means a study of its economic impact released Tuesday will have to be revisited, although it could still prove accurate.
“Right now, as far as I understand, most of the evacuations have been preventive, so it’s still possible we will see production ramp up as expected,” he said. “We had assumed most of the production would be back up by the end of this month.”
The Conference Board estimated average oilsands output would fall by 1.2 million barrels of oil a day for two weeks, translating into $985 million in lost gross domestic product.
The board expects rebuilding efforts to add roughly $1.3 billion in real GDP to Alberta’s economy next year and construction in the region is expected to be higher than normal in 2018 and possibly 2019.
With files from The Canadian Press