Camps come in all shapes and sizes. You could be placed in any one of them depending on the site and project where you are working.
The camps around Fort McMurray vary in their amenities, but are generally much like hotels. Some camps are now even offering more activity and leisure options for after the work day is done. The work camps of the future may not just be a place to work, eat and sleep.
“The oilsands company and the contractor negotiate the number of rooms they will need based on the size of the job,” says Sharon Imeson, executive assistant for Employee/Labour Relations with Ledcor. “The contractor places the employees in the camp.”
Because housing in Fort McMurray is expensive and scarce and many people come here to work from other parts of Canada, workers often look for jobs based in a work camp.
Work camps have been around for many years. There are differences between camps, most obviously when comparing small and large facilities. For example, small camps house as little as 15 to 30 people and have limited facilities. Large camps, for projects such as oilsands expansions and construction, can house up to 2,500 people. And some work camps now have amenities such as workout rooms and gyms, dining halls, coffee shops, single rooms with double beds, television, satellite and wireless Internet.
Albian Village, which opened in July 2007, is one of the newest camps in the region and currently houses 1,100 people. “The residents are craft labourers—carpenters, scaffolders, boilermakers, millwrights, pipefitters—all the craft labour we require to work on the Jackpine Mine,” says Paul Hagel, senior public affairs representative for Shell Canada. “It’s their home away from home. We’re really proud of this facility. We’re confident that it’s going to position us as the project of choice in the area and we’ve really looked at every possible need that one of our workers would have while here at the job site.”
Positions that get housing
There are a number of different paths a company will take to provide its workers with camp accommodations. In many cases, it depends on the job. Because most of the workforce is needed on an oilsands project during the construction phase, generally workers that do construction work will be provided with housing—tradespeople, labourers, and equipment operators.
A contractor may only provide camp housing to its foremen and general foremen. Another contractor may provide camp housing to its tradespeople, but not its foremen, whom they may give Living Out Allowance (LOA) or subsistence. It is dependent on things such as the scope of the work, the type of project they’re working on, availability of resources, the location and other factors.
If the job posting doesn’t mention camp accommodations, and the job seeker does not know if they are provided, they must apply for the job and talk to the contractor during the interview to find out specific details.
Who has the jobs?
If a person is looking for a job that comes with camp accommodations, they should start by looking at the construction contractors who do a lot of work in the area. When the contract is signed between that company and the owner (oilsands companies such as Syncrude, Suncor, CNRL, or Shell’s Albian Sands) for construction work, a certain number of rooms are allocated to the contractor.
The largest number of camp rooms is needed and filled during the construction phase of an oilsands project, but that’s not saying that once the project is built, there won’t be more work. Projects often have upgrades and future expansions that need to be constructed. Also, some oilsands companies place their direct employees in camp for operations. (Direct employees are those that are working directly for the oilsands company, not one of their contractors. See the December 2006 bulletin, “Employment in the Oilsands” for more information on direct employees.) It is something that a job seeker has to talk to each employer about.
When the shop is union
When a company hires union workers, there may be different hiring processes, depending on the arrangement between the union and employer.
Some contractors hire through a union instead of advertising directly. For example, Lockerbie and Hole, a construction contractor that does work around Fort McMurray hires management and office staff directly, but tradespeople are hired through the union. In this case, job seekers must apply to the union for membership in order to get employment with the contractor.
Some contractors with union workers hire staff directly as well as getting employees from the union. All unions have different processes for this, so contact the specific hiring halls for more information.
Some union websites have company information such as what projects they are currently working on and specific job postings. Some of the job postings are very detailed with additional information such as availability of subsistence, travel expenses, bussing, LOA, fly-in, fly-out, camp accommodations and shift rotations.
For a list of the unions operating in the Fort McMurray area visit: www.woodbuffalo.net/linksFACTSUnion.html.
Camp accommodations can also be a negotiation tool. Generally, for projects close to Fort McMurray, the oilsands company will not provide camp accommodations to its direct staff. They may change that restriction if they are having a hard time hiring a particular position, such as a power engineer.
Alternatives to camp
Often, when the sites are far away from Fort McMurray, all staff will be housed in a camp. In some cases, travel is something a worker needs to consider. It may be because the camp is full or because of an arrangement between the employer and the employee. Imeson, from Ledcor, says that some of their staff drive every day from Fort McMurray to the Albian Sands site.
“I talk to people up at Albian and they’re leaving Fort McMurray at 5:15 in the morning and then working until 5:30 pm and not getting back to where they live until close to eight at night. It’s a very long day,” says Imeson.
Also, if a camp is full of workers, a contractor will either wait to dispatch a tradesperson, or if the work can’t wait, they may provide the worker with subsistence or LOA, which are only provided if camp housing is not provided.
Hard on family
Not everyone agrees that camp living is the best life. Brad Wood, business liaison with the Ironworkers union, says that camp life is hard on a family.
“Once you have the taste of camp life, you may not want to live in a camp. You’re away from your family for long periods of time. You usually only get a few days off and you have travel back and forth, so you have no family life and you don’t get to see your kids grow up. You’re gone basically 24 days working and then you have four days off, so you get maybe a maximum of two or three days to see your family and then you’re traveling back to work.”
Other things to take into consideration when living in a work camp is that the camps are generally remote, making it hard for some workers to adjust. Also, you are always living out of a suitcase. Living in a camp is like living in a hotel for an extended period of time. At the end of your rotation, you must pack up your bags and travel back home. When you come back to work after your time off, you might be assigned a different room or maybe even a different camp. Some camps are dry and do not allow alcohol.
A job seeker should take all these things into consideration when looking for a job that comes with camp accommodations.
Many agree that if you want to guarantee yourself a job that comes with camp accommodations, get a trade. Rooms in the work camps around Fort McMurray are primarily filled with tradespeople. And since most companies, contractors and owners alike, want their tradespeople to be either an Alberta-certified journeyman or someone who has taken the Interprovincial Red Seal exam, it’s a good idea to start there. For information on these two programs, visit www.tradesecrets.gov.ab.ca and www.red-seal.ca.
Labourer or heavy equipment operator positions may, or may not, come with camp accommodations. Job seekers should look for jobs that advertise work on an industrial work site (oilsands project). Those positions will more likely provide camp accommodations than work that takes place in the city of Fort McMurray.
Where to look for jobs
To find the contractors hiring, visit all of the regular places for finding jobs: the Internet, company websites and other job postings, such as newspaper ads. Company websites are a good place to find information about what the company does, what projects they are working on and what positions they are hiring for. Even on their website though, companies may not post whether a position comes with camp housing or not because they may be hiring a number of people for several different projects.
“When Ledcor advertises for pipefitters, they wouldn’t advertise just for Albian because they may need pipefitters for (Suncor) Firebag as well. That’s why we don’t advertise housing arrangements because we might even need a pipefitter for our Mod Yard, which is just outside Edmonton,” says Imeson.
Consider your options
Employers are aware of the housing issues faced by people coming here to work.
“There’s a high demand for labour in the Fort McMurray area,” says Hagel. “If an employer comes into this market and doesn’t look after its employees and workers, it’s going to be tough to attract and retain skilled workers.”
Job seekers need to do their research, apply with the right companies and ask the right questions when speaking to employers.
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