​8 stats about the rotational workforce in the Athabasca oilsands

Entrance to the workforce residence at the Surmont oilsands project. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

So-called rotational workers, or those who don’t commute to and from home every day, are a major part of the oilsands workforce in the Fort McMurray region.

15 oilsands projects in the region — representing about 60 percent of total production — use fly-in, fly-out operations staff, says a new report from the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA).


“While a couple of smaller projects are within commuting distance, the majority of those project here remote, located outside of a daily sustainable commuting distance for shift workers,” OSCA says. “One-way door-to-door travel times range between 90 minutes and three hours.”

While the report does not estimate the number of people working rotationally in the oilsands, it does say that the number has decreased since 2015, when the oil price collapse forced most companies to shift from construction of new growth and operations to operations and maintenance alone.

OSCA says that companies “remain committed” to hiring locally and developing the regional labour force, but there are several reasons they might choose rotation, including the remoteness of camps, ability to better maintain worker safety and worker performance, and quality of life that permits people to work at projects while allowing their families to remain in their current communities and accessing existing support networks. Local and fly-in, fly-out can co-exist, OSCA says.

“Recently, public debate in the community has arisen regarding the financial benefit of encouraging rotational workers to relocate to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. However, OSCA’s research indicates that residential development is not a net contributor to municipal revenues. Community residents typically consume more in programs and services than they contribute in property taxes. Conversely, industrial land users generally require few municipal services and, due to combined high assessed values and differential tax rates, contribute more in property taxes than the cost of the services they consume,” the organization says.

Here are eight stats about the rotational workforce in the Athabasca oilsands, based on a survey conducted by OSCA of 2,275 workers either online or in-person at work camp sites.

  1. The operations-related rotational workforce is overwhelmingly male (85%) and mostly married (71%).
  2. Approximately 13% of operations-related rotational workers identified as either First Nation (7%), Métis (5%), or Inuit (1%).
  3. Nearly half (47%) of operations-related rotational workers are over the age of 44.
  4. Approximately 5% of respondents live in the AOSA region (mostly in Fort McMurray), and 1% live in Lac La Biche.
  5. Just over 60% of operations-related workers come from Alberta, excluding theAOSA.
  6. Roughly one-third (32%) of respondents are from elsewhere in Canada. Of those rotational workers whose place of residence is elsewhere in Canada, roughly four in ten (42%) reside in British Columbia.
  7. Nearly 60% of operations-related rotational workers have worked more than 5 years in the region, with over one-quarter (26%) having worked more than 10 years in the region.
  8. It is estimated that, on an annual basis, operations- related rotational workers will spend between $82 and $91 million in Fort McMurray in 2017.

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