Governments lack critical data on fly-in workers. Experts say it puts them at risk
Exactly how many fly-in workers are employed in the north? It’s a surprisingly difficult number. This is partly due to a lack of reporting requirements, which leave workers open to exploitation and governments in the dark, experts say. “It’s a big, complicated picture, and it’s largely invisible,” said Barbara Neis, a sociologist at Memorial University and director of the On the Move partnership, which studies fly-in workers. Now that COVID-19 outbreaks on projects with remote resources are revealing the scale of the system, researchers say it has never been more important to improve transparency about where these workers are employed. “We really need better data,” said Sara Dorow, chair of the University of Alberta’s sociology department and fly-in worker researcher. “This data on who is in camps and what is happening in camps should be public [available] … because it has a public impact, as COVID has clearly shown. “A worker walks past the engine of a Boeing 737 Max aircraft in Vancouver. Researchers say data on fly-in workers is hard to come by. Researchers say data on how do workers in fly-in warehouses like and what is in them happens should be publicly available. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press) What We Know About Fly-In Workers In northern Canada, infrastructure and resource projects depend heavily on manpower provided by a transient workforce flown to remote workplaces. However, data on the size of this workforce is patchy. Statistics Canada provides some data, according to Neis, but the number of fly-in workers is seldom updated and often not made public. Performance agreements indicate where they are used. a little more insight into who is involved in resource and construction projects For example, a report in the NWT shows that 55 percent of mining workers are admitted from outside the territory. However, many fly-in employees do not work in industries with effect or performance agreements. According to Neis, the areas rely on fly-in and non-resident workers in all areas, from health care to food and transport. Even governments are not immune – more than one in five public administration workers in Nunavut lived in another province or area, their 2016 data showed. [Governments] I really have no control over it or don’t know how many workers are out there. – Barbara Neis, Sociologist at Memorial University The same data shows the system has grown over the past two decades. The Yukon had nearly 400 more non-residents in 2016 than in 2002, according to a 2020 report by Neis and her team. Canada is nowhere near the only Arctic country to use temporary and rotary workers in this way. In a recent article for the Arctic Institute, Alexandra Middleton, an assistant professor at the School of Business at the University of Oulu in Finland, described the practice as “common in all Arctic countries”. But “there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how to measure it,” she said in an email. “”[The] The model flourished because… it does not require investments in industrial urban development, enables lean and flexible management, and [enables] Access to a greater supply of skilled labor, “it says in their article.” However, it has a number of negative social impacts on the local community and on the workers themselves. ”Cooks at NWT’s Gahcho Kue mine site in 2016. Cramped conditions and communal spaces have resulted in several outbreaks of COVID-19 in workplaces in the remote north , including in Gahcho Kue. (Kate Kyle / CBC) COVID-19 reveals the scale of the system. These negative effects were seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote locations are becoming epicentres for larger outbreaks. Across the size of many labor camps, in particular Little is known in remote Arctic regions, which can reach tens of thousands, and coverage of outbreaks has given rare insight into the scale of the operations in her article, Middleton notes a case in Russia where 2,000 cases of COVID-19 are among 10,000 workers The extent of this outbreak revealed another fact of the fly-in work – the h ochinfectious state nations. “People usually live in modified shipping containers with eight workers sharing 20 square meters, which makes it very difficult to prevent the spread,” she wrote of projects in the Arctic. Camp is almost always a place [where] Bodies are close together. – Sara Dorow, sociologist at the University of Alberta Similar waves of infection have emerged closer to home. An outbreak at NWT’s Gahcho Kue mine resulted in 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in just a few hundred workers and at least three hospital stays. However, the constant discovery of new cases – and working arrangements that have residents standing next to fly-in workers – has not been enough to prevent the mine from resuming operations, albeit with more stringent testing procedures. “Camp is almost always a place [where] Bodies are close together, “said Dorow, the University of Alberta researcher who interviewed around 75 fly-in workers at oil and sand sites in Alberta.” Even before COVID[-19] came, our participants talked about it, you know, someone sneezes and everyone gets cold, “she said. A worker was standing on the stairs of a natural gas storage facility in the port of Sabetta in the Arctic Circle. The lack of reporting requirements With fly-in workers, they can discriminate and Being exposed to exploitation, said Alexandra Middleton, assistant professor at the University of Oulu in Finland. (Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images) Infectious is a culture that discourages reporting illness or injury, especially during an economic downturn. “They were believes that posing as sick or unhealthy means putting yourself on the radar for layoffs or non-recalls, “she said, pointing to other disadvantages of fly-in. Workers who report getting through that Camp life, bad food, poor sleep and little control over schedules keeping them away from their families make them feel severely stressed out at work too People who worked in the oil and sand industry were more likely to report harassment. Little control over schedules also means little chance of family accommodation. “I think this is an area where we can and should get more legal attention,” said Dorow. But the fact that provincial and territorial governments know little about these workers means they are more likely to “fall between the cracks,” Dorow said. Foreign workers at higher risk This applies in two respects to locations that employ foreign contract workers who are often not covered by local or provincial governments. According to Middleton of the University of Oulu, foreign workers face discrimination and exploitation because of this poor documentation. Even within Canada, many provinces and territories rely heavily on foreign temporary workers, who, according to Neis, often arrive “in a kind of debt bondage” with recruiters. “There are certain problems,” said Neis. “It is very difficult for you to express yourself … you are very vulnerable.” While the federal government tracks their immigration, this data is not shared with provincial, territorial, or local governments that are charged with ensuring their working conditions, health care, and other aspects of life. “They really have no control over or don’t know how many workers are out there,” Neis said. A Chinese miner in Eritrea. Experts say foreign fly-in workers are at even greater risk of exploitation and discrimination. (Thomas Mukoya / Reuters) Modern slavery coverage could shed light on the industry One solution to this loophole that Middleton is proposing is to pass modern slavery laws that require companies to show that they are at no point in their supply chain – or benefit from child labor. Middleton’s research shows that Canada and Russia have the fewest companies that do this reporting. While Canada’s politicians have tried twice to enshrine this requirement in law, both attempts have failed. A third attempt, Bill S-216, was stalled by the pandemic. Even if the bill passes, Middleton says companies should go beyond the minimum reporting requirements to ensure they are transparent about their workforce. “Companies that invest in Arctic projects need clear rules and regulations [a clear] Understanding what is expected of them, “she wrote. Dorow and Neis agreed that better reporting from companies – and better data from governments – is essential.” Industry has a role to play because it has the best access to workers, “said Dorow. There is still a long way to go. Dorow asked industry groups to help get their survey in front of workers. In the end, they refused.