City of Regina motion asks for review of work camp conditions at Co-op refinery

The City of Regina is concerned about conditions at the work camps set up to house temporary workers at the Co-op Refinery Complex. 

A motion raised by Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens has asked for a review of conditions with the review's findings made public. He also asked for a directive that would allow the city to revoke the occupancy permit should it be determined the camp is not safe for habitation.  

"If we're talking about 25 people...not being in one space at the replacement worker camp, we're talking about hundreds," Stevens said. 

"Many of the individuals who are there have been there since December and there's increased concern that this is not a safe place to be given the COVID outbreak."

Temporary workers have been occupying the camps since December, as a result of a labour dispute between Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL) and Unifor, the union representing about 800 locked-out workers. 

The dispute went to special mediation. Unifor has said it accepts the mediators recommendations while FCL said it is still reviewing them. 

Councillors who supported the motion said the workers are temporarily living within the city's jurisdiction and their safety should be considered, along with that of Regina residents. 

Most who voted in favour cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a primary safety concern for the workers. 

City manager Chris Holden said the camp was recently inspected by the fire marshal, who reviewed the living and cooking conditions at the facilities. Holden said there were a few minor issues to address but no serious concerns.

When asked if the health authority had reviewed the refinery complex, Holden said he knew the parties were "in regular contact." However, he couldn't comment on any inspections that may have happened because it's not in the city's authority. 

It would be up to the province to shut it down if it finds the camp unfit for occupancy or has other concerns, he said.

Council voted 10-1 in favour of the motion with only Mayor Michael Fougere holding out. 

"I'm not going to support the motion as is written," he said. "I could look at it if we insisted that they provide a copy of the report, the health assessment, and prove that it isn't safe."

He said he understood the health concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, but he preferred if the motion asked the health authority to provide council with the safety review of the camp. 

The government of Saskatchewan said it was looking into the matter, but no further response was received by deadline. 

Pandemic measures in place: FCL

A statement posted on FCL's website on Thursday said an infectious disease management program is in place and health care professionals were consulted in its implementation. 

"This program includes extensive protocols, including a robust sanitization program, continuous access to medical professionals 24-7 and social distancing practices for the workplace," the statement said.

On-site temporary workers in the camp are  "sequestered," which ensures they are not travelling in and out of the refinery.

The camp provider also implemented its own pandemic plan, which was reviewed by an external pandemic planning expert.

Employees have limited access to the refinery and only those deemed essential to its operation are allowed on site while others are working from home or in secure locations. Travel restrictions have also been implemented.

The start of the refinery's spring turnaround, originally planned for April, has been delayed until at least May 15.

When asked to comment on the city's motion, an FCL spokesperson said it was open to work with any of its regulators.