by Greg Klein
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Canadians run mines all over the world using local miners. But that principle won’t apply to Chinese interests who want to open four coal mines in British Columbia. Instead, the mines will employ workers from China. That fact has raised concerns about the loss of Canadian jobs and a question regarding which safety standards will prevail—Canada’s or China’s.
Within weeks 200 Chinese will arrive at the Murray River coal project in northwestern B.C. to begin a 100,000-tonne underground bulk sampling. Should permits and approvals fall into place, the mine will begin production in 2015, employing approximately 600 workers. Between 400 and 480 will be Chinese nationals on two-year visas. The mine is slated to rely on Chinese underground workers until about 2025, one-third of its projected 30-year lifespan. The rationale is that Canadians don’t know longwall mining.
Murray River is one of four Chinese-staffed B.C. coal mines proposed by Canadian Dehua International Mines Group. Its hiring policy has the support of Canada’s federal government, which has already approved temporary visas, and the provincial government, which sets regulations regarding mine operation and safety. Safety, along with jobs, was an issue emphasized when the United Steelworkers union broke the story in an October 9 press release.
“The Chinese coal mine industry is probably one of the most dangerous in the world,” USW Communications Officer Brad West tells ResourceClips. “The U.S. Mine Rescue Association’s numbers indicate that between 2001 and 2011, 50,000 coal miners have died in Chinese mines. Is that the type of expertise the provincial government believes we need?”
The USMRA attributes those numbers to China’s State Administration of Work Safety. “That’s only the ones that were reported,” West says. “We believe there are many more that go unreported.”
He says health and safety regulations for B.C. miners come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas, not the Workers’ Compensation Board. “The Ministry of Mines is part and parcel of the same government that made the arrangement for [the Chinese miners] to come over. The government’s then left in charge of their health and safety…. Based on our experience dealing with safety issues in mines in British Columbia, we don’t have a great deal of confidence that the ministry is going to either be interested in, or successful in, enforcing health and safety regulations in these mines.”
West points to the Northwest Territories’ Mine Training Society as an example for other jurisdictions to follow. Funded by federal and territorial governments and by industry, the program “trains people in the territories, and people who want to come to the territories, to take on these mining jobs,” he says.
“Despite the government’s contention, our experience tells us there are lots of people who are interested in the security, stability, good pay and benefits that jobs in the mining industry can offer. We should be training these people to take on those positions.”
The Murray River Project is being developed by HD Mining International, a partnership in which Huiyong Holdings has a 55% interest and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group 40%, with an unnamed party holding the remaining 5%. Huiyong is a coal miner in China.
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