The United Steelworkers are applauding a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to reject a complaint by a Chinese temporary foreign worker (TFW), who is involved in the construction of a coal mine in northeastern B.C.
“We don’t care where people come from, what colour they are or what language they speak, we just want them to be treated fairly,” said Steven Hunt, director of District 3 for the United Steelworkers.
“We have questioned the head tax of $12,500 each that these workers pay to brokers in China to come here, as well as an additional $400 a month once the workers reach Canada. The unfortunate people in this situation are the Chinese workers.”
However, the union recently found itself on the other side of a human rights complaint.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission notified the union on Jan. 18 that a complaint filed by Huizhi Li had been rejected.
Li is a Chinese national, who was hired by HD Mining to work on the initial $300 million construction phase of the Murray River underground coal mine, near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
He may have arrived at the Murray River project in October 2012 as part an initial group of 15 TFWs, who started bulk sampling and the construction of the decline and shaft.
The complaint was filed by Li on Dec. 10, 2012 in a letter written on HD Mining letterhead.
The letter alleged that the United Steelworkers were in violation of Section 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act for publishing a PDF leaflet on their website entitled B.C. Jobs for B.C. Workers.
The leaflet dated Dec. 6 said B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Jobs Minister Pat Bell are supporting a Chinese mining company, which is bringing in foreign workers from China to work as miners in northern B.C.
“Temporary foreign workers are exploited through low wages, no benefits and little workplace protection,” stated the leaflet.
“The wealth generated through those low wages and resource extraction leave our province, while British Columbians are left wondering why the government won’t stand up for us?”
The leaflet urges union members to speak out against a future, where profitable mining companies can generate even larger profits by hiring low-paid foreign workers with no protection, as well as driving down Canadian standards.
In his letter to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Li claimed the leaflet was “likely to create contempt for Chinese persons and in particular Chinese workers by alleging to the public or union members that they will work for reduced wages and in substandard conditions, thereby denying Canadians the opportunity to those jobs and/or adversely affecting the wages and working conditions that Canadians will be able to continue to expect for other or similar related jobs.”
About 200 Chinese nationals have been issued visas at the Canadian embassy in Beijing to work at the underground mine, under the federal TFW program.
“What we have asked Minister Finley to do is let us get involved in a review of the temporary foreign worker program,” said Hunt.
“The process here was flawed. So, we are calling for a stop to this process, and asking both levels of government to do it right.”
Final documents for a judicial review were submitted by the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers to the federal court in Vancouver on Jan. 21.
The judicial review will determine if Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) made errors issuing Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) to HD Mining.
An LMO is an opinion provided by HRSDC to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which assesses the impact that hiring the TFWs may have on the Canadian labour market.
The LMOs were used by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to issue visas at the Canadian embassy in Beijing to Chinese nationals to work at the underground mine.