HD Mining denies connection to third-party recruiters

Trent Ernst, Editor
 
HD Mining’s plan to bring in up to 201 Temporary Foreign Workers to work on the bulk sample has resulted in a provincial government investigation after it was revealed that some miners being recruited to work were being asked to pay more than $12,500 for the privilege of coming to northern BC.  
 
However, HD Mining Vice President of Environmental and Regulatory affairs Jody Shimkus is unequivocal that these companies are in no way connected to HD Mining. “We are not working with third party recruitment agencies,” says Shimkus. Instead, the employees are coming from mines already in operation in China, run by Huiyong Holdings. “These are employees of our mines in China. These are our miners.”
 
Still, reports of recruiting agencies demanding money have sparked an investigation by the provincial and federal governments. Asking for fees in exchange for work is against the Employment Standards Act, which states: “Temporary foreign workers are covered by the provisions of the Act. They cannot be charged a fee for job placement. Employers cannot require them to stay for a set period of time, nor can they charge business or recruitment costs or deduct these costs from their employees’ paycheques.”
 
BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair has called on the province to suspend all temporary foreign worker permits granted to HD Mining. 
 
“Recruiting companies in China, allegedly acting on behalf of BC mining companies, are charging recruiting fees of as much as $12,500 a head; these same Chinese recruiting companies are making grossly exaggerated promises of  immigration and family reunification rights to prospective Chinese participants in the program, and wages being offered to these workers are well below prevailing Canadian wage rates, and we suspect below the rates specified in the LMO,” writes Sinclair in an open letter to BC’s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. These revelations, writes Sinclair, “compound concerns over: the absence of local training opportunities and fair advertising of job opportunities; the imposition, accidental or otherwise, of unreasonable language requirements; and, less than average wage and benefit terms.”
 
Sinclair says they’ve heard from trained local worker who applied for posted jobs and were turned away as they were not found to be qualified or suitable for the work, “a claim we find extremely dubious.” Says Sinclair. 
 
However, Shimkus maintains that the style of mining (longwall) is not practiced in Canada and the equipment the company will be using is not used here. “I’ve used this metaphor a few times,” says Shimkus, “but it’s a bit like asking a float plane pilot to fly a helicopter when they’ve never done it, and there is no helicopter to practice on.”
 
Shimkus says that HD Mining has already started discussions with Northern Lights College and other educational organizations about the best way to go around getting people trained. “The Training and Transition Plan we submitted as part of our Labour Market Opinion was not a requirement. Consistent with that plan, HD Mining has initiated discussions with Northern Lights College and other educational organizations about establishing a training program and doing a training and needs assessment.”
 
Because there is a shortage of skilled workers, says Shimkus, not just locally but around the world, the company has factored on replacing 10 percent of the workforce each year. “Not only is these a shortage of skilled workers, but there is going to be an increase in demand over the next five years, so we’ve been very conservative in our estimates.” 
 
Their estimates are backed up by a recent release from the Mining Association of BC, which says there the mining industry in BC is expecting 16,700 new hires over the next ten years. 
Minister of Jobs Pat Bell says that, with unemployment hovering around 4.4 percent in the Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd area, finding people will be difficult. “Also, the type of mining is quite different. There are only two underground coal mines in Canada, one in Grande Cache, Alberta and one on Vancouver Island. This is a trade that is particularly in short supply. It is very challenging, and it is very dangerous, so it is hard to recruit for.”
 
Shimkus says she is taken aback by the amount of controversy the proposal has elicited. “You’d think we were the only ones using Temporary Foreign Workers.” In 2011, 22,600 Temporary Foreign Workers were brought into BC and 151,520 were brought into Canada. 
 
Shimkus says the company has been upfront about its plans to bring in Temporary Foreign Workers, and is a little confused as to why everyone is making a big deal out of it now. “”It is unfortunate the focus has been on the Temporary Foreign Workers and not on the significant economic benefit this project will bring to Tumbler Ridge and the Province of BC,” says Shimkus. 
 
“While HD Mining requires Temporary Foreign Workers experienced in underground mining this project will also create new jobs for Canadians, including: Mine Electricians, Mine and Equipment Operators, Office Clerks, and Support Workers.  
 
The first 14 Temporary Foreign Workers are expected to arrive in Tumbler Ridge in the next few weeks.