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The company, which is owned by Chinese interests, claimed it was unable to recruit Canadians skilled in longwall mining. Labour groups argued the company didn’t make reasonable efforts to hire and train Canadians, made Mandarin a job requirement and undercut Canadian wages. The unions also said the foreign staff might overwhelm efforts to impose B.C. health and safety standards. The Chinese mining industry is notorious for its death toll.
But Friday’s ruling stated the unions failed to make two of three arguments, that the HD Mining plan would cause “irreparable harm” and the “balance of convenience” favoured the unions. The judge expressed concern, however, with the information HD Mining provided to obtain a favourable Labour Market Opinion, which prompted the federal government to approve the work permits. A judicial review of the LMO continues. But in the meantime, 45 more Chinese workers are set to join the 15 who’ve already arrived. Their initial project will be a 100,000-tonne underground bulk sampling.
Friday’s decision topped a week of developments in the controversy.
A Canadian Press story published in Thursday’s Vancouver Province reported that HD Mining threatened a lawsuit and launched a human rights complaint. The company said it was considering a civil suit against the federal government following critical comments made by two ministers. The company also released a human rights complaint on an HD Mining letterhead that accused the United Steelworkers of hate speech. An employee claimed material on the USW Web site is “likely to create contempt for Chinese persons and in particular Chinese mining workers.”
“It’s something that we expected all along,” USW western Canada director Steve Hunt told CP. “When all else fails, pull the racial card out and suggest we have something untowards any worker coming in to Canada.” He said the union was simply fighting for workers’ rights.
Another Canadian Press story in Wednesday’s Vancouver Sun confirmed that HD Mining’s plan to train Canadians would take more than 14 years. Previously unreleased company documents revealed that Chinese workers would be used during 30 months of construction and an additional two years of mining before Canadians would even be offered training. Then the company planned to spend another 10 years to replace 10% of its “temporary” workers annually with Canadians.
But an expert in training underground coal miners said the company could train a crew in a little over six months, according to Wednesday’s Metro News Vancouver. Gary Whisman said longwall mining skills would require 40 hours of classroom time and six months of on-the-job experience, Metro reported. Whisman is executive director of the Kentucky Coal Academy, which the paper said has trained 55,000 miners since 2005.
He maintained the newly trained miners would need just a handful of veteran supervisors. “You’re going to have to hire a longwall co-ordinator, someone in that line, and then you’re going to have to pick up some people that are experienced, maybe a longwall foreman or someone who’s done the task before,” Metro quoted him. He added that skilled staff can be found in the U.S.
HD Mining is held 55% by Huiyong Holdings and 40% by Canadian Dehua International Mines Group. Canadian Dehua has three other, earlier-stage B.C. coal projects. The B.C. government has known about Canadian Dehua’s plan to staff mines with imported workers since at least 2007.
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