Labor Market Opinions released to public
Trent Ernst, Editor
The two unions in a legal battle with HD Mining won a significant victory on December 7, when a Federal Court judge granted the unions access to ten Labour Market Opinions.
The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union (Labourers) launched the court challenge on November 5 asking the court to overturn the decision to allow workers to come from China for the Murray River Project.
A Labour Market Options (LMOs) is a document provided by the Federal Government. “The opinion assesses the impact the foreign worker would have on Canada’s labour market or, in other words, how the offer of employment would likely affect Canadian jobs,” says the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Website. “An employer needs a positive Labour Market Opinion to hire a temporary foreign worker.”
In order for the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) to be brought in, The federal government must rule that there are no qualified Canadians available to work at the Murray River Mine at prevailing Canadian wage rates.
“This is absolutely not the case,” said Mark Olsen, Business Manager of the Labourers. “There is a long history of mining in BC and there are many workers available with the skills required for this work. We have represented mine workers in BC for decades.”
The mine is at a pre-production stage, and the initial work involves the collection of a bulk sample of coal. “We have members who can do that work and are available. If the mine then proceeds to the production stage and the owners bring in specific production equipment, it’s a relatively simple matter to train for that equipment. This type of training is performed routinely by mining companies operating in Canada” said Olsen.
Lee Loftus, President of the BC Building Trades, says the documents are the evidence they need to support their case. While HD argued in court that the ability to speak Mandarin was not a requirement, under the Language Requirements section for both Oral and Written, Mandarin is listed. “The Chinese Workers will speak Mandarin in a team environment and will receive English Language training,” says the LMOs.
“It certainly provides support for our concerns and complaints,” says Loftus. “The faults that we thought were in place are there. There was additional information that we didn’t expect, like how there were other parties that were aware of the faults but didn’t do anything.”
Loftus says that the province appears to be aware of the issues with the LMOs, but were very supportive of the mine, even though there was no plan in place to transition away from Temporary Foreign Workers. “We thought the provincial government would be at more arm’s length, but they’re closely tied.”
Loftus believes that with the information contained in the LMOs, the court will put more weight on what the unions are saying. “I think we were 100 percent right and this is the evidence that supports that. It really shows that the system is broken.”
HD Mining issued a statement Friday that said the company included Mandarin on the temporary foreign worker application simply to indicate the language spoken by the foreign workers it had already recruited.
In the notes section, the reviewer of the LMOs, federal officer William MacLean, raises concern over the transfer of skills to Canadian workers. This concern is due to “foreign workers not being proficient in English. [The employer] asserts that on-the-job training and skill/knowledge/experience transfer will be facilitated by English-speaking foreman and foreign miners/support and service workers through use of interpreters attached to work units.”
Maclean also raises concerns over the target of a ten percent turnover rate from Temporary Foreign Workers each year for the first ten years of the mine life. “No substantive information provided as how [HD Mining] will meet this goal.”
However, the LMOs were ultimately granted for 201 temporary foreign workers to be brought in for the bulk sampling process, as there are no rules against refusing foreign worker permits based on workplace language. This would allow for “a subsequent review of the employer’s progress in hiring and training of Canadians.”
In addition to the court case, Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finlay has announced a review of the entire temporary foreign worker program. The BC government has launched its own investigation into allegations recruiters in China charged fees.