Wednesday 22nd October 2014

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Week in review

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The inscrutable subtlety of longwall mining

After six weeks, controversy continues over the plan to import Chinese workers to staff a proposed British Columbia coal mine. On Thursday, a federal court granted two unions the right to seek a judicial review of the decision to grant work permits to the foreign miners. The following day the company involved launched an appeal, Canadian Press reported.

In a Friday dispatch picked up by Global News, CP also stated that the company, HD Mining International, signed a memorandum of understanding with Northern Lights College to train Canadians in longwall mining. A college spokesperson said the five-to-eight-month course could be underway by 2014. But HD Mining appears to be sticking to its plan to rely on Chinese “temporary” workers for its proposed Murray River mine until 2025.

“It’s going to take some time, absolutely, because you’re transferring a completely new skill set to Canadians in the form of longwall mining,” HD Mining spokesperson Jody Shimkus told CP.

A proponent insisted efforts were made to recruit Canadians, according to another Canadian Press story published by the Vancouver Sun on Tuesday. An affidavit by Michael Xiao of Huiyong Holdings, which owns 55% of HD Mining, said three months of job ads drew no takers. It’s not clear, however, whether the three to five years’ experience required was restricted specifically to underground coal mining or even longwall mining. Nor is there any word how much experience the Chinese miners will have.

On Wednesday the United Steelworkers Union called on B.C.’s chief inspector of mines and minister of mines to order a suspension of work at Murray River, where surface preparations are underway prior to underground bulk sampling. The USW argued that “to understand and comply with the occupational [health] and safety rules and standards, all workers in mines must have appropriate facility in the English language.”

Seventeen Chinese workers have already arrived, with 60 more expected in mid-December. The federal government has so far issued 201 work permits.

New revelations have dogged the scheme ever since the USW brought it to light on October 9. Last week media reported that Shimkus was an assistant deputy minister in B.C.’s Ministry of Natural Resources less than a year ago, and therefore might be in a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, training opportunities expand up north

While HD Mining condescends to sign an MOU with a local college, Northwest Territories underground mining courses are expanding to Nunavut. The Kitikmeot Inuit Association announced new training programs to start in Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk early next year, the Nunatsiaq News reported on Tuesday.

The six-week introductory course will tackle subjects like geology, mining methods, underground mining, safety and the mining life cycle. The course is an approved program of Aurora College and will be taught by instructors hired by the Northwest Territories Mine Training Society, the newspaper reported.

Michele Buchan, manager of Inuit employment and training for the KIA, told the Nunatsiaq News, “It’s building a solid base for employability, and we know that the mines in the NWT do prefer to hire people who have had this training.”

Aurora College also offers a more advanced 14-week course at its Fort Smith and Yellowknife campuses in the NWT.

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