10 december 2012

Labour dispute over Chinese Foreign workers


(Teck Resources/Canadian Press)
Hundreds of Chinese nationals could come to B.C. in the coming years as more mines are developed.

A contentious labour dispute is playing out in the west coast province of British Columbia, but one with national and international implications.

A Chinese mining company, HD Mines, is seeking to extract coal from a site in the central BC mountains near the boundary with Alberta. It wants to bring in some 200 Chinese miners as temporary foreign workers, saying no Canadians are qualified. Another Chinese company, which also planned to bring in Chinese workers,  has temporarily stopped its plans to develop a site called the Wapiti Mine

Provincial labour unions say that is nonsense, and the company is excluding Canadians in order to pay the foreign workers far below typical wages and benefits.

Before foreign workers can be brought in to fill a labour need, the company and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, (HRSDC) must ensure that no Canadians are able or willing to do the work through what is called a “labour market opinion”. The unions claim this process was flawed, and that Canadians have been excluded from this work
The unions also say that because the mine is insisting on Mandarin as the working language, they are putting lives at risk as Chinese workers will not understand their rights, nor a multitude of Canadian health and safety regulations and practices. It is also being seen as a way to exclude Canadians.
In addition, the company has claimed that Canadian miners are inexperienced at the particular type of mining planned..ie “long wall” mining.  However the unions claim this is neither a new nor at all unusual type of mining, and has been practiced in Canada.

The Chinese companies claim Canadian workers are not familiar with "long wall" coal mining.. The unions dispute this and add most of the jobs do not require specialized skills. (David Crigge/Associated Press)

At least one of about 300 Canadians who applied for jobs and who was granted an interview has spoken out about the process. The proposed Murray River mine is located near the town of Tumbler Ridge. Town resident Trevor Wilhelmsen told CBC News he applied for one of the jobs and the brief job interview went nowhere. The experienced miner said the company seemed to have little interest in hiring him or other Canadian workers.  "I'm sure there's a lot of people in our own country, our own province, back east, that could work these jobs and maybe haven't been given the opportunity," said Wilhelmsen

Trevor Wilhelmsen, an experienced miner, says the company didn't seem interested in hiring him or other Canadian workers. (CBC)

Along with HD, another company Dehua International Mines Group is involved in the court battle to bring 200 Chinese miners.  Dehua has issued a statement that says it is stopping work at another proposed mine also near Tumbler Ridge, known as the Wapiti River project. The company’s statement says, due to concerns raised at the nearby Murray River minet, investors have expressed reluctance to fund the project, and work will not resume unless new investors can be found

The legal challenges continue because the unions say, they want to shed light on the whole temporary worker programme.

RCI’s Marc Montgomery spoke to Charles Gordon, the lawyer representing the Operating Engineers Union, local 115, and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union, local 1611.
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