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Put public health and wellbeing before Big Oil profits

Across B.C. and Alberta, over 100 energy megaproject work camps are continuing to operate, including Site C and the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines. Each of these camps houses hundreds of workers in close proximity, despite the need for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. mayors, B.C. nurses, the B.C. Building Trades Council, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the former Chief Medical Health Officer for Northern Health in B.C. have all called for the energy megaproject work camps to be shut down immediately, and for the duration of the pandemic, to protect community health.

At least one worker has already tested positive for COVID-19 at LNG Canada, the destination of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Site C, which has over 1,000 workers on site, recently isolated 16 workers who exhibited flu-like symptoms.

While you and I are doing everything we can to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19, the continued operation of these energy work camps is endangering the health and wellbeing of the workers at the camps and communities in the area. We can protect the workers and nearby communities if we act now.

For public health and the health of the planet, these camps cannot continue operating. Given this reality, the workers need income supports and a just recovery program that prioritizes good low carbon jobs and workers’ rights. The program must include support for just transition initiatives that expand public health care and other public services, while winding down fossil fuel extraction.

This just recovery and transition must minimize the impacts on affected workers and communities, while prioritizing their role in shaping the way forward. We need to do this urgent work to build a new economy that addresses the COVID-19 and climate crises and we need to start now. Pipelines and energy megaprojects are not essential services in a pandemic or a climate emergency – in fact, they will cause further harm. There’s no excuse for keeping them running when other non-essential projects have shut down to flatten the curve.

Oil and gas workers, like workers from all sectors, need to be able to immediately access income support in order to preserve personal and public health. This necessarily includes migrant and undocumented workers.

Stimulus money should offer immediate relief directly to workers and provide opportunities for training, education and employment in existing and emerging low-carbon sectors. Energy workers are also best positioned to lead the cleanup of orphan wells, which should be administered by an independent fund with representation from Indigenous communities, local governments and landowners.

These are the kinds of worker-led solutions the government should be enabling, funding and promoting to ensure the necessary transition is just, equitable and leaves no worker behind on the road to recovery from the pandemic.

Will you take action right now to protect workers and communities?

Coastal GasLink has 1,100 workers along the route of the pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory, including 500-800 workers at 14 Coastal GasLink man camps. Outside Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta, there are 109 camps of 33,000 transient workers.

Tight quarters at the camps make physical distancing between workers nearly impossible and threaten workers’ health. The health of local Indigenous communities is more at risk from COVID-19 because of decades of colonialism, poverty and lack of access to clean water and sanitation. And rural hospital systems are not equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak.

The communities surrounding these work camps have named them as a direct threat to remote communities that are already at high risk due to COVID-19. The home communities of the transient workers who fly in and out of the camps multiple times each month are also at risk.

The corporations managing the camps say they plan to isolate anyone who exhibits symptoms, but you and I know there’s a huge problem with that approach. Studies show that half of COVID-19 cases exhibit mild or no symptoms. This means there could be workers at the camps right now who are spreading the virus to their coworkers, Indigenous and local communities, and bringing it back to their home communities, without even realizing it.

To flatten the curve of the pandemic, the government must shut down the energy megaproject camps immediately and provide direct support to all affected workers.

The federal government should enact legislation to create a comprehensive plan for a just transition for workers and communities as the economy struggles to adapt to the pandemic and moves to a low-carbon future. The legislation should incorporate the recommendations of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, and the innumerable other demands and recommendations for transition planning generated by workers, communities, Indigenous peoples, and social movements. This legislation should be in place for any sector or community impacted by the transformation that is needed.

Will you write to Prime Minister Trudeau to demand his government put public health and community wellbeing first by shutting down the energy camps and implementing a just transition and recovery?