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695 B.C. coal miners laid off but HD Mining wants workers from China: B.C. minister issues statement on imported labour

by Greg Klein | April 17, 2014

(May 2, 2014, update: HD Mining now says it will hire Canadian underground workers.)

Announced April 15, Walter Energy’s (TSX:WLT) decision to suspend its British Columbia operations kills 695 coal mining jobs in a region where HD Mining International wants to import up to 480 Chinese workers for its proposed Murray River coal mine. HD Mining’s rationale, which was supported by both the federal and provincial governments, is that only Mandarin-speaking Chinese understand the company’s system of longwall mining.

Most B.C. operations are open pits. HD Mining’s owners are Mandarin-speaking Chinese.

The scheme was brought to light in October 2012 by the United Steelworkers. Since then legal challenges by B.C. unions have so far been unsuccessful despite evidence that HD Mining offered pay rates below Canadian standards, rejected qualified Canadians and posted job openings in Canada that made Mandarin a job requirement.

Controversy prompted the federal government to review its temporary foreign worker program and crack down on alleged abuse, most recently by fast food restaurants. HD Mining eventually stated that within a few years of operation it would “transition” 10% of Murray River’s underground jobs each year to Canadians. But the company didn’t say whether the jobs would go to Mandarin-speaking workers who become Canadian citizens three years after arrival.

Still pending is legal action launched by the USW in December to challenge a provincial permit for underground bulk sampling at Murray River. The union argued there were “grave concerns” about the Mandarin-speaking operation’s ability to meet B.C. safety standards.

By press time USW communications officer Brad West hadn’t responded to a request to comment on HD Mining in view of the Walter Energy layoffs. Inquires to B.C.’s Ministry of Energy and Mines were directed to the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. On April 17 Minister Shirley Bond released the following statement by e-mail.

695 B.C. coal miners laid off but HD Mining wants workers from China: B.C. minister issues statement on imported labour

Shirley Bond

Our government believes in saying yes to economic development so we attract investment that creates jobs and promotes mining development in B.C. If the Murray River project becomes a fully developed mine, we plan to do everything we can to ensure British Columbians are trained to fill these jobs first.

Our position on [temporary foreign workers] has been very clear: British Columbians will be first in line for jobs in our province, then Canadians, then immigrants and TFWs only as a last resort. But there are times when there is a legitimate need for TFWs. In these cases employers must follow a rigorous process that shows there are no Canadians that can first fill the position.

I know that the recent changes by the federal government have aimed to ensure that Canadians, and by extension British Columbians, are given the first chance at available jobs. We hope that any reforms made by the federal government will ensure the program fits its intended use.

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