A Little Less Controversy, a Little More Action – When will HD Mining and the Unions Talk?

Lynsey Kitching

The media has become the middle man in the internationally covered HD Mining court case. Though HD Mining recently reached out to the involved unions for a conditional meeting, the message was again delivered to a reporter’s inbox, rather than the union’s mailbox.

The International Union of Operation Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 in the same week released their survey to the media illustrating British Columbians thoughts on the Temporary Foreign Worker program and mining jobs for Canadians.

The survey, administered to 600 BC residents, showed for the most part, resident’s loyalty lies in the vision that jobs on BC soil should be first going to Canadians and that the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFW) needs to be re-configured to ensure more transparency and involvement by the government.

This survey was conducted by telephone among randomly-selected British Columbia residents, 18 years or older, between January 15 and January 21, 2013. The sample has been weighted for age, gender and region using Statistics Canada’s 2011 Census data to reflect actual demographic breakdown.

With 88 percent of people polled feeling the government should train or re-train Canadians before bringing in TFWs, only about 52 percent distrust the government with finding qualified Canadians for jobs.

Also, 86 percent agreed – with 63 percent strongly agreeing – that: “Companies hiring temporary foreign workers in BC should be required to make those applications available for public review.”

The TFW program being in the limelight could become a very important component to political platforms in the future.

Brian Cochrane Business Manager for the IUOE Local 115 says, “The one question about the politics, should the issue of the TFW matter be an issue that our politicians should be highly sensitive to and should it be part of their campaign. Absolutely,” he continued, “There are a lot of things within the TFW program that are correct, I guess the flaws of the program are clearly shown when there is a breakdown in respect to having a TFW program federally, and when it comes down to compliance of the program. I think this case with HD mining really shows the problems with how the government does the analysis, follow-up and their overall review of perspective employer’s applications to bring in workers from outside the country.”

The unions received information dated for summer 2011 from the Ministry of Mines on Friday, February15, which stated HD Mining wasn’t planning on using long-wall mining during the bulk sampling development. Cochrane said, “That is what is on record at the provincial government’s office. The document is dated June or July of 2011. That was all part of their application and as far as our knowledge there hasn’t been a subsequent amendment that has gone to the ministry saying they decided to change processes. There were folks who had decades of experience doing underground coal mining. Underground coal mining is just that.”

Though the unions are continuing to dig for more evidence of misuse of the TFW program and flaws in the program itself, the two parties (the unions and HD Mining) have still not met for a good old fashioned round table discussion.

Cochrane said, “HD Mining put out a press release in early February. The irony to their request is that it never came to me. It went to the media. I think there is only one way to have resolve to problems and that’s through discussion. We would be prepared to do it in the right venue. We are prepared to meet to have meaningful discussion, but making a conditional offering and meeting through the media based on criteria, that is not the way we should do business in British Columbia.”

Mayor Wren is also hoping the parties can come to an agreement and resolve the HD Mining saga. Last week at council Wren said that during his latest visit to Vancouver he “put some efforts into trying to get some communication between HD Mining and the various unions.

That is an ongoing issue,” he continued, “What I would say is that neither group is going to win through a war of words in the media. I urge these groups to work together to find a solution that brings benefit to everybody. As it sits right now, it seems too much interest is being put into a media war. I’ve put out calls to MP Zimmer and Pat Bell and urged the federal government to provide some leadership on the issue. This issue is having a large impact on Tumbler Ridge. We have to come to some sort of resolution here.”

Many think the issue could also have an impact on Canada’s trade with China, though Cochrane believes a mutually beneficially outcome and be reached. He said, “If you take the 30,000 foot view, China wants and needs access to our resource and we want to help them do that. We’re all on the same page in that regard. It’s just how do we manage to do it, provide China with the energy and coal they need and at the same time ensure the interests of BC and Canadians are looked after. In this case, it doesn’t look like that threshold has been met. Do we need to work toward this mine getting developed to supply China with the coal it needs? Absolutely. We need to do it in a structured way that protects our interests.”