Nova Scotia

N.S. rotational workers say new border process adds to 'circus' of hoops

Rotational workers facing new requirements for travelling back home into Nova Scotia say they feel like they're living "in a circus" as more and more hoops are raised for them to jump through.

New application form requires letter from employer, schedule details

Jennifer Hutton, a rotational worker who travels to Montreal, says the new Nova Scotia check-in process will add huge headaches for workers with rapidly-changing schedules. (CBC)

Rotational workers facing new requirements for travelling back home into Nova Scotia say they feel like they're living "in a circus" as more and more hoops are raised for them to jump through.

The new safe check-in application process put in place last Friday requires rotational workers to apply to come back to N.S. about a week before they intend to travel, with a response taking about three days.

They must also provide a letter from their employer with the name and location of their worksite, and details on their rotational schedule.

"It kind of seems to me like we're in a circus and they keep stacking more and more hoops in front of us and we keep jumping through them," said Jennifer Hutton of Middle Sackville, who commutes back and forth to Montreal for her IT job.

"Now they've set the hoops on fire and I'm pretty sure there's a lion waiting at the other end."

Hutton said workers are worried about what happens if a family emergency happens while they're away and they're denied immediate entry.

The border between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on Monday, March 23, 2020. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Depending on one's job, Hutton said workers might be sent to various provinces or states every few weeks, so they don't always report to the same location every time. That means different schedules may have to be reflected on a new letter each time the worker wants to come home, she said.

"That really is going to cause problems," Hutton said.

Hutton flies out next on June 7 and isn't actually sure when she'll be coming back because there's a project that might require her to stay longer than her usual one-week trip.

Hutton said she might stay with her parents in Ontario when it's over if it's "not feasible" to apply to come home.

The province has said these stricter measures are needed to help curb the spread of COVID-19 during the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, especially since there have been incidents of people who have forged documents to get across the border.

Nova Scotia reported 91 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the number of known active cases to 1,434.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang has said some of the cases in this wave have been tied to rotational workers, but Hutton said a better way to curb spread would be better enforcement around anyone coming into the province who breaks the rules.

Under the new rules, rotational workers returning to Nova Scotia from outbreak zones will also no longer be allowed to do the modified form of self-isolation that had previously been permitted.

They must self-isolate for 14 days in a completely separate space from other people in their household — although they can share a bathroom that's cleaned between uses.

For Ryan Connor of Enfield, who works in the oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alta., the new rules seem unnecessary.

Ryan Connor of Enfield, N.S., says there are already plenty of restrictions in place for rotational workers in the province that are wearing people down. (CBC)

Connor said he's checked up on by the province through email and phone every day after he comes back to N.S., and has heard of the RCMP dropping by people's homes.

Workers already had to get regular COVID-19 tests, and even the modified form of self-isolation means he's missed watching his kids play sports or go to public events.

"I've missed that for the last year and a half. It's extremely difficult, and now they're making it harder," Connor said.

"They just threw this policy out there and honestly, I don't know if they thought it fully through what they're doing. Like, the effects on people it's having. Stress, added stress. It's crazy."

Connor said so far his employer has been very helpful, and was in the process of getting letters for him and his fellow Nova Scotian co-workers flying home within the next couple of weeks.

Premier Iain Rankin said Monday he's heard concerns from rotational workers, and Public Health is looking into whether one employer letter could be acceptable for the check-in form so a new one isn't needed each time.

"I know this is tough work, and it's tough enough you're away from your families, so we don't want to impede your access to getting back home," Rankin said.

With files from Preston Mulligan