Coal mining company appealing court ruling on temporary foreign workers

VANCOUVER – The company bringing workers from China for its northern B.C. coal mine has filed an appeal of a Federal Court ruling granting two unions the right to pursue a judicial review of the decision to grant the temporary foreign worker permits.

HD Mining International has expressed repeated concerns about a statement by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announcing a review of the entire Temporary Foreign Worker Program, in which the minister cited the company’s Murray River coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Mine officials wrote to Finley asking her to clarify her statements.

“HD Mining is very concerned and disappointed that on Nov. 8, 2012, after this litigation had commenced, Minister Diane Finley made a public statement regarding HD Mining and the Temporary Foreign Worker program, which she has to date declined to clarify,” said a statement issued late Friday by HD Mining.

“HD Mining is particularly concerned about the impact the Minister’s statement had on the ongoing court proceedings and the decision to grant the unions standing.”

In the statement earlier this month, Finley said the government was not satisfied with what it had learned about the process that led to permission to bring hundreds of foreign workers to the mine.

“In particular, we are not satisfied that sufficient efforts were made to recruit or train Canadians interested in these jobs,” Finley said.

She noted allegations that some of the advertisements by HD Mining required Mandarin be spoken — an allegation the company denies.

“It is clear to our government that there are some problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Finley wrote.

“Litigation could impede this work and lead to court battles rather than a genuine fix.”

The Crown refused to release the Labour Market Opinions produced by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to the unions, even confidentially at the urging of the Federal Court judge.

The court ruling would have given them access to the internal federal government documents.

The company said Friday that it has met or exceeded all requirements and conducted an extensive search for Canadian workers.

The International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union say the company offered wages that were $10 to $17 an hour lower than the going rates and without benefits.

Jody Shimkus, vice-president of environmental and regulatory affairs for HD Mining, said $30 million has been spent so far on the project.

Seventeen workers have already arrived at the mine and another 60 are slated to arrive in mid-December. The company has been granted visas good for two years for 201 temporary workers.

The company has submitted to the federal government a training plan to “eventually transition fully to Canadian workers,” and this week signed a memorandum of understanding with a northern B.C. college to develop a training curriculum.

Shimkus said the agreement means the company will work with Northern Lights College to develop a curriculum for training people in the long-wall underground mining technique to be used at the mine.

That plan lays out a 10-year timeline for the transition.

“It’s going to take some time, absolutely, because you’re transferring a completely new skill set to Canadians in the form of long-wall mining,” Shimkus said.

“And we already know there’s a shortage of not just underground mining workers, but of mining workers as a whole nationally right now. So it is going to take some time to work to develop that program and train those workers, but the objective of HD Mining is to fully transfer this skill set to Canadians over time.”

Peter Nunoda, vice-president academic and research at Northern Lights College, said the program could be implemented by 2014 and would likely involve five to eight months of training.

“We’re very much at the exploratory stage here,” he said, but added that HD first approached the school well over a year ago.

If approved, the mine is expected to begin production in 2014 and operate for 30 years.