Fate of Miners Could be Decided in Courts

Trent Ernst, Editor
The discussion over 201 temporary foreign workers has moved from the court of public opinion and into federal court after two unions filled an application asking a judge to overturn the decision to allow 201 miners from China to come to Tumbler Ridge for the bulk sample program at the Murray River Project. 
The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local 115, and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union – better known as the Labourers’ Union – Local 1611, say the federal government defied its own regulations when it allowed HD Mining International Ltd., to hire 201 miners from China.
“The purpose of the Labour Market Opinion (LMO) procedure is to ensure that Canadians have first opportunity to obtain employment and that foreign workers do not deprive Canadians of employment opportunities or undercut prevailing Canadian wage rates,” says Mark Olsen, Business Manager of the Labourers Union in a release last week. “This is absolutely not the case, there is a long history of mining in BC and there are many workers available with the skills required for this work.”
HD Mining has maintained that the work is specialized, and that they have yet to have any Canadians apply who are qualified to do longwall mining. 
The company’s Murray River Project is currently in pre-production, with the collection of a 100,000 tonne bulk sample expected to start later this month, once the underground mining equipment arrives. 
Brian Cochrane is the Business Manager of the IUOE, Local 115, which represents over 10,000 workers in British Columbia and the Yukon. In an affidavit, he says the union maintains a dispatch list of members who are out of work. “Currently there are 474 people on the dispatch list, including 100 in Northeastern BC.”
He says that many of the jobs advertised would not be different from other positions in other mines. “The positions of driller helper, miner operator, blast hole driller, blaster, shaft bolter, hoist operator, ventilation man, conveyor man, de-water pump man, maintenance man and haulage man, all of which have appeared in the HD Mining or Canadian Dehua job advertisements are all positions that are the same as, or very similar to, positions at the Line Creek Mine and Peace River Coal Mine where Local 115 has held bargaining rights.”

Cochrane also points out that the wage rates that were advertised for the work on the Murray River Project are considerably lower than what is paid for mining work in Canada. “At the Peace River Coal Mine, as of March 1, 2012, certified trades and ticketed blasters receive $42 per hour and drillers receive $37 per hour. The advertisements run by HD Mining seeks blasters, drillers and miners with three years underground coal mining experience at rates from $27 to $35 per hour.”
While longwall mining is a highly mechanized method of mining, says Cochrane, he is unaware of any case in which longwall mining has been used at the stage of bulk sample. 
Members of IOUE 115 have expressed concern that the foreign workers will be taking jobs that could be filled by them, writes Cochrane. “Once those workers arrive, those jobs would no longer be available to Canadian residents.”
Moreover, says Cochrane, “by allowing foreign workers to come into Canada and work at wage rates that are lower than those available to Canadians, HRSDC is undermining the ability of Canadian workers and permanent residents to get a reasonable wage for their work. All of this is contrary to the policy directives of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and the policy of the Canadian Government which is to ensure that foreign workers are only allowed to take employment at the rates payable to Canadians working in similar jobs.”
According to the HRSDC, Employers are required to pay temporary foreign workers the same wage they are paying their Canadian workers for doing the same job in the same location, and the wages cannot be less than 15 percent the median wage for a high-skill occupation. 
Based on the figures provided by Cochrane, workers at the Murray River Mine working as ticketed blasters or certified trades could not receive less than $35.70, and drillers could not receive less than $31.45. 
To date, 13 of the projected 201 Temporary Foreign Workers have arrived in Tumbler Ridge.