Chinese investment OK but not workers, B.C. unions say in fight against foreign employees at coal mine – by Brian Hutchinson (National Post – November 30, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

VANCOUVER — Tumbler Ridge is a coal mining town, tucked away in northeastern B.C. All of its largest employers are in the same business: Extracting high quality coal from the ground and shipping most of it to Asia, where demand is insatiable.

The first Chinese investors arrived in Tumbler Ridge almost 10 years ago and began purchasing coal-bearing properties. They even bought a small lodge. And now the first wave of Chinese coal miners have landed, to the chagrin of some. Chinese money is welcome in Tumbler Ridge, it seems. But Chinese muscle is another story.

HD Mining International Ltd. is a private partnership, established last year by Chinese-owned entities, including the Chinese government. In April, the partnership obtained permission from Ottawa to hire on a temporary basis 201 foreign workers, for the development of a potential underground mine just south of Tumbler Ridge.

The Murray River coal project could eventually create up to 600 permanent jobs, and over a lifespan of 30 or more years yield up to three billion tonnes of coal. That’s just for starters, says the town’s mayor, Darwin Wren. “For every job underground, there would be another one above ground,” he says.

The Chinese insist they need their own workers to continue with the coal deposit’s “advanced exploration stage,” which precedes actual mine production. There aren’t enough skilled workers available in Canada to perform necessary bulk sampling work. According to HD Mining spokeswoman Jody Shimkus, the company advertised openings for “experienced underground miners” in Canadian newspapers and on government websites last year, and interviewed 97 selected candidates. None had the requisite skills and experience. No Canadians were hired.

The first 17 Chinese workers arrived in Tumbler Ridge just days ago; dozens more are expected in December.

Local union leaders insist the foreign workers aren’t necessary, that there are plenty of Canadian men and women able to perform the bulk sampling. They suggest that HD Mining wants to exploit Chinese workers who, they claim, will tolerate low pay, lousy conditions and poor treatment. Foreign workers in Canada “have no rights,” Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, told the CBC.

It’s also been alleged that Chinese recruiters have demanded $12,500 from workers, in exchange for jobs at Tumbler Ridge. B.C.’s Employment Standards Branch investigated the claims; according to the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, there is no evidence that such fees are being charged.

But last week, a federal court judge gave two unions — the Construction and Specialized Workers Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers — permission to proceed with an application for judicial review into Ottawa’s decision to furnish 201 Chinese workers with temporary visas. The decision won’t delay HD Mining’s coal sampling program.

In response, one of the partnership’s key members — Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. — announced it would suspend advanced exploration work at another coal property it owns south of the Murray River site. But on Monday, Canadian Dehua reversed course and said preliminary work at its Wapiti River coal project would continue as planned. It did not explain the curious flip flop.

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: