Chinese Miners: Here they come!

Trent Ernst, Editor
 
After nearly five years of discussions, the first of the 200 Chinese miners coming to Tumbler Ridge to work at HD Mining’s Murray River Project are expected to start arriving in the next few weeks. They represent the first of anywhere up to 2000 Chinese miners who could be coming to BC over the next few years to open up a series of new underground mines in the region, including HD’s Murray River Project, the first of four mines being investigated in the northeast. 
 
First proposed in 2007 by Canadian Dehua International Mining Group (CDIMG), the Murray River Coal Mine would be the first underground coal mine in northern BC. The rational for bringing in the Chinese workers has always been lack of experienced underground coal miners, especially miners with longwall experience.
 
However, Stephen Hunt, USW Director for Western Canada doesn’t buy that argument. “Canadians are world leaders in mining, including underground mining.  We have the expertise and the people to operate these mines safely.” Hunt argues that the safety record for Chinese mines is atrocious, and urges BC’s Jobs Minister Pat Bell to abandon plans to open the mines. “We’ve thoroughly reviewed the health and safety record of China’s coal mining industry and to put it simply: their record is damning.  In 2011 alone, 1,973 workers died in coal mine accidents in China,” said Hunt.  “Do these sound like the actions of an industry that has anything to teach Canadians about how to manage coal mines?”
 
It’s an argument that Jodi Shimkus has heard before. Shimkus is the Vice President, Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for HD Mining International, a joint venture between CDIMG and Huiyong. She says this will be the site of one of the most highly sophisticated methods of underground coal mining in Canada. 
 
In an interview with the Tumbler Ridge News earlier this year, Shimkus pointed out that not all the mines in China are built to the same standards. She says safety is paramount for the mines owned by Huiyong Holdings Group (the “H” in HD Mining). “Huiyong Holdings operates six mines in China,” said Shimkus, “and another three that are about to come on-stream. There has never been a death at any of these mines. These are highly sophisticated operations.” And Canada, said Shimkus, is not China. “Any new development in Canada has to meet Canadian safety standards. We’ve contracted with Work Safe BC to train our temporary foreign workers. All the workers will come out of the training with a Work Safe BC certificate.”
 
The plan, said Shimkus, is for the Chinese workers to get the mine up and running, then train Canadians to take over the positions. “We are hoping to transfer this skill set to Canadians. We want Canadians trained in this skill set. We are in discussions with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation about how to create a program to transfer that knowledge. We have had some discussions with Northern Lights College around how to deliver the WorkSafe BC training. We will have further discussions with them around the transfer of skills and what that will look like.”
 
In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, CDIMG Chief Executive John Cavanaugh said it’s not just a matter of Canadians not having underground experience, but that the technique and the technology is new. “Without the Chinese and the technology they’re bringing…these particular mines would not have been developed.”
 
The 200 Chinese workers, who are coming in under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, will begin working on the 100,000-tonne bulk sample program, which was approved in March of this year. It is the first of the four mines to reach this stage, and hopes to be in operation in 2015. 
 
The mine is expected to employ an estimated 600 workers, with an estimated 2000 jobs being created to support the mine as well. Of those, says Shimkus, about 480 will be Chinese workers brought in under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.