Foreign workers at a proposed coal mine in northeastern B.C. are being sent back to China by their employer, in response to a federal judicial review of the process that granted them permission to work in Canada.
“This was a difficult decision for us, but we are very concerned about the cost and disruption this litigation brought by the unions has caused to the planning of the project,” said Jody Shimkus, vice president, environmental and regulatory affairs with HD Mining International Ltd.
“We need reasonable certainty before initiating work on our underground bulk sample. We have also decided to delay bringing any additional workers to Tumbler Ridge until we have reliable certainty.”
HD Mining announced on Jan. 29 that 16 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) on the initial $300 million phase of the Murray River Project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C. are being returned to China, due to a federal legal challenge by the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union (CSWU) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).
About 60 more workers were scheduled to join this group in mid-December to perform underground preparatory work for the bulk sample phase of the project.
This work involves the extraction of a 100,000 tonne coal sample to determine the viability of full mine development and to confirm that the coal is marketable.
The timing of HD Mining’s decision is suspicious for the B.C. construction unions involved in the matter.
“The B.C. Building Trades question why HD Mining would decide to pull out of its B.C. coal mine development project just days after we received the resumes of 300 Canadian workers, who were rejected for jobs that were then filled by Chinese temporary foreign workers,” said Brian Cochrane, business manager of the IUOE Local 115.
“Why is HD Mining afraid of scrutiny and due legal process in Canada if it has nothing to hide and followed the rules of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program?”
Federal Court Justice Michael Manson ordered the Minister for Human Resources and Services Development Canada (HRSDC) Diane Finley on Dec. 16 to “further consider the scope and nature of her compliance” with a court order to compel disclosure documents requested by the unions for a judicial review of permits granted to HD Mining to bring the Chinese TFWs to Canada.
About a month later, HD Mining turned over the resumes to the two unions’ legal counsel.
The construction unions launched the judicial review to determine if 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.
HD Mining received 300 applications from Canadian citizens or permanent residents to work at the mine.
The company did not hire one of these applicants, claiming they were not qualified.
The unions counter that the LMOs issued to HD Mining failed to ensure there were no Canadians to do the work, while the TFWs were offered wages far below prevailing rates. Despite these setbacks, HD Mining chair Penggui Yan said the company is committed to the project and will continue with the construction of worker housing and the environmental assessment process.
“But we need to be able to rely on the Canadian legal system – and receive fair treatment from governments – when planning and developing projects,” said Yan.
“In the absence of being able to find Canadians qualified and interested to do this work, we need to know we can rely on the two-year temporary foreign worker authorizations we received.”
The B.C. construction unions said HD Mining can’t blame them for any cost and disruption to the project because the company repeatedly blocked the union’s access to information for the judicial review.
“HD Mining has done everything it could to put legal roadblocks in our way in order to prevent any public scrutiny of its hiring process – a process where HD Mining made the astonishing claim it couldn’t find a single qualified Canadian to work in coal mine development – something we have said isn’t possible,” said Mark Olsen, business manager for the CSWU. In total, 201 Chinese nationals have been issued visas at the Canadian embassy in Beijing to work at the proposed underground coal mine.
HD Mining has defeated an injunction attempt by the unions on Dec. 14 to prevent more workers from arriving at the coal mine, until the judicial review is completed.
In his decision, Justice Campbell said HD Mining simply used and met the requirements of the TFW program as it presently exists.
He said HD Mining is not responsible for any problems with the TFW program or any reviewable errors made by HRSDC when LMOs were issued.