“There’s absolutely nothing to do. There’s four pool tables and couple of ping-pong tables and one card table for 1,500 guys. Prisons have more facilities than that.”

Oilsands workers at a new camp north of Fort McMurray have been prevented from working at Suncor’s Fort Hills project since last week, when a solvent, thought to be pentane, was introduced.

Staff were told the solvent work would take one day, but several days later, the site was still too unsafe. Employees said they weren’t being paid for the hours they were scheduled to work, and were being told if they leave the camp, they risk losing their jobs.

“There’s absolutely nothing to do and we’re not being paid to be here — and we can’t leave,” said a worker who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired and blacklisted by all oilsands companies.

The worker told Global News that thousands of staff are confined to the camp. “They told us they weren’t going to pay us at all, and then I guess some unions fought and we got two hours a day. We’re scheduled for 12, so to get two hours a day is barely a token.”

However, a memo to workers from Suncor‘s Fort Hills site leadership team acknowledged “the extended duration of start-up activities has had a significant impact on those workers who have remained in camp throughout the activity,” and that eligible workers would receive compensation.

“The workers are employed by contractor companies, and will be compensated in accordance with the arrangements they have with their respective employers. For specifics, we would defer to the contractor companies themselves,” the memo said.

Suncor’s Fort Hills mine is about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray in Canada's remote northern Alberta wilderness.

“It’s as close to a prison as you’re going to get,” a worker told Global News, describing the accommodations in the drug- and alcohol-free camp. “If you were to have more than a couple of people in a room, the security are coming in and telling you to go back to your rooms. There’s absolutely nothing to do. There’s four pool tables and couple of ping-pong tables and one card table for 1,500 guys. Prisons have more facilities than that.”

Construction of Fort Hills was green-lit in 2013, after the project was shelved for five years due to the 2008 financial crisis. With a maximum capacity of 194,000 barrels per day, Fort Hills is one of the biggest oilsands projects, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of current oilsands production.

The site recently started to come online and is expected to reach 90 percent capacity by the end of this year. Once fully operational, Suncor’s Fort Hills mine is expected to generate 1,600 jobs and have a lifespan of 50 years.

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