Two major construction unions are launching a legal challenge in federal court to revoke hundreds of work permits that are being issued to temporary foreign workers (TFW) from China at a coal mine in northeastern B.C.
“We are asking the federal court to have the Labour Market Opinions (LMO) for this project judicially reviewed because it does not seem that a proper process was followed when they were issued,” said Charles Gordon, who is representing the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union (Labourers) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) in federal court in Vancouver, B.C.
“The Labour Market Opinion should ensure that there are no Canadians, who can do the work, and that wages paid to foreign workers are equivalent to prevailing wages, so there are no negative impacts on the labour market in Canada. This does not seem to have been done in this case.”
HD Mining International Limited has started construction on the first stage of the Murray River project, which is a $300 million underground coal mine near Tumbler Ridge.
An initial group of about 17 TFWs arrived to start work on the extraction of bulk samples, which will determine the viability of coal deposits.
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Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has issued LMOs to another 200 Chinese temporary foreign workers.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) in turn issued work permits, which allowed HD Mining to import these Chinese labourers under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program for the initial phase of the project.
In response, the IUOE and the labourers union have filed an application in federal court to overturn the HRSDC decision, which claims the LMOs were issued without proper or any consideration of Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations.
According to court documents, there is no evidence of a labour shortage.
HD Mining received 300 applications from suitable Canadian citizens or permanent residents, despite the fact that the jobs were not widely advertised.
An affidavit filed by Brian Cochrane, business manager of the IUOE, said Local 115 currently has 474 people who are out of work or on the dispatch list in B.C., including 100 in the northeastern region of the province.
HD Mining also imposed unreasonable and unnecessary requirements on Canadian applicants, which have not been applied to Chinese workers.
The unions argue bulk sampling to test the quality of coal seams does not require the specialized skills and experience advertised.
Some of the ads also list the ability to speak Mandarin as a qualification.
In addition, the wages and benefits being offered in the HD Mining advertisements for positions at the Murray River project are not consistent with prevailing wage rates for mining work in Canada, particularly underground mining.
“For instance, HD Mining advertised for a certified heavy duty mechanic, working underground, at $25 to $32 an hour with no benefits indicated,” said Cohrane.
“That position pays over $42 an hour, with full benefits, at mines that are currently operating in Canada, including the Peace River Coal Mine at Tumbler Ridge.”
This means HD Mining is paying wages to the Chinese workers that are about $10 to $17 an hour below the prevailing wages in the industry in Canada, and no benefits.
Court documents claim HD Mining made little effort to hire or train Canadians or permanent residents.
However, training is currently being given to Chinese workers.
“If the mine then proceeds to the production stage and the owners bring in specific production equipment, it’s a relatively simple matter to train for that equipment,” said Mark Olsen, the Labourers union business manager.
“This type of training is performed routinely by mining companies operating in Canada.”
As a result of the court action taken by the B.C. construction unions, HRSDC minister Diane Finley said the government will review the federal TFW program.
“We are not satisfied with what we have learned about the process that led to permission for hundreds of foreign workers to gain jobs at the Dehua Mines subsidiary in British Columbia,” she said.
“In particular, we are not satisfied that sufficient efforts were made to recruit or train Canadians interested in these jobs.
“Specifically, the requirement that applicants have skills in a foreign language does not appear to be linked to a genuine job requirement.”
HD Mining International Ltd. is a private corporation, which was formed by two majority partners, Huiyong Holdings (BC) Ltd. (55 per cent) and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. (40 per cent).
Huiyong Holding Group, the parent company of Huiyong Holdings (BC) Ltd., is a private Chinese company, which operates more than nine mines in China.