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VANCOUVER — In a downtown office, Penggui Yan is sketching on a white board, using pictures to illustrate mining techniques and back his claim that he needs to hire Chinese workers to determine whether the Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge can be a viable mine.
The proposed project would use a technique known as longwall mining, which extracts coal in long seams rather than the so-called room-and-pillar model used in existing coal mines in Canada. To make the method work, you need employees that understand the equipment, methods and dangers – including potentially explosive gases – of working in such an environment, Mr. Yan insists.
“You have to have that continuity,” Mr. Yan said on Monday. “You have to allow me to prove this mine is mineable. For the time being, I don’t know if it’s mineable. I am taking $150-million out of my own pocket to prove this will be a mine.” Exploration and bulk sampling would amount to $150-million of a projected $300-million cost to build the mine, Mr. Yan said.
For Mr. Yan, the chair of Vancouver-based HD Mining International Ltd., the logic behind hiring foreign workers is unassailable. Others, however, have questioned the company’s rationale. Two unions have launched a court case to challenge the process that cleared the way for HD Mining to hire 200 foreign workers at Murray River. Spurred by the controversy over the company’s plans, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley last November said she would review the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
HD Mining, meanwhile, has become a lightning rod for concerns that reach far beyond Tumbler Ridge, including the increasing numbers of temporary foreign workers in Canada. As of the end of 2011, more than 300,000 workers were in Canada under the program, up from fewer than 200,000 in 2007. Labour groups and academics have raised concerns that the country’s increasing reliance on foreign workers could result in depressed wages and put vulnerable employees at risk of abuse.
HD Mining’s court case remains under way. B.C. locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union are seeking a judicial review of the workers’ permits granted to the company.
The unions allege that HD Mining could have hired Canadians for the jobs and recently released a document outlining the experience of applicants that were turned down for positions at the project.
If the mine is built, HD Mining would hire and train Canadians, Mr. Yan said.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/murray-river-mining-dispute-highlights-dilemma-of-foreign-workers/article8238708/