A B.C. labour leader is skeptical about a peace offering from a Chinese-owned mining company, which involves two construction unions dropping a legal case in federal court and engaging in talks about hiring more temporary foreign workers (TFWs) at a coal mine near Tumbler Ridge.
“If HD Mining was genuinely interested in meeting with us, they would not have broadcast the letter to the media within minutes of sending it to us,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.
“If they wanted to meet with us and do something in good faith, this was a very poor way to start the whole exercise.”
The letter was in response to legal proceedings that threaten to block the importation of about 200 Chinese TFWs to the $300 million Murray River project.
“While our company is fully prepared to continue defending this litigation, and while we believe the court will ultimately conclude our approvals were validly issued under the existing law and policy, we are prepared to engage in a dialogue with the unions if there is a mutual interest in doing so,” said HD Mining chairman Penggui Yan in the letter dated Feb. 7.
The peace offering to the Construction and Specialized Workers Union, Local 1611 and the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, includes the following four conditions that would serve as the basis for moving forward with discussions.
The conditions are:
1. Allowing HD Mining to complete its two-year bulk sample work with 201 TFWs who have permission to work in Canada;
2. Help the company develop training curriculum for long-wall mining;
3. Participate in a review of HD Mining’s training and transition plan for hiring of Canadians, if the project moves beyond the sample phase; and
4. Engage in discussions with the company, before making any further applications to use TFWs. Sigurdson said he is finding it difficult to take the offer seriously.
“If this wasn’t such a serious issue, the letter would be laughable,” he said.
“The terms are drop the matter before the federal court and let us do whatever we want, then we will have a discussion before we bring in more foreign workers.”
In addition, HD Mining has taken a hard line position in federal court with regard to releasing company documents to the public.
“At almost every stage, the courts have determined that the applicants to the matter have been given access to documents, the company initially refused,” said Sigurdson.
For example, despite an order from a federal court judge, HD Mining refused to hand over documents relating to about 300 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, who applied for jobs at the underground mine.
The company did not hire one of these applicants, claiming they were not qualified.
Under pressure from the unions, the federal government forced HD Mining to hand over the documents, which revealed some of the applicants had excellent qualifications and experience.
This included individuals with up to 30 years mining experience, mineral engineering degrees and management experience at major mines in Canada.
Justice Douglas R. Campbell ordered the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to hand over the Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) and all the supporting materials submitted by HD Mining to hire 201 Chinese nationals.
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.
Currently, only one LMO application has been made public, which seeks permission to bring in 65 foreign workers in the position of underground mine operator.
The LMO application shows HD Mining required Chinese to be spoken at the mine and new employees will receive English language training as part of a TFW transition plan.
However, this plan was not part of the documents initially provided to union lawyers. For this reason, the judge said the TFW transition plan must also be produced by HD Mining, because it is an integral part of each LMO application.
The plan, outlined by Yan in a brief letter to HRSDC last year, revealed HD Mining is planning to replace TFWs with Canadians over a 14 year period.
Initially, HD Mining would use TFWs during 30 months of construction.
Next, it would take one year to set up a training school and then two more years to recruit and train Canadians.
After recruitment and training, the company would take another 10 years to replace Chinese workers with Canadians, at a replacement rate of 10 per cent a year.