Two major B.C. unions have applied to have the Federal Court overturn a decision to give work permits enabling more than 200 foreign workers to work at HD Mining Ltd.’s planned Murray River underground coal mine near Tumbler Ridge.
The two unions, which represent mining industry workers, are the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union (Labourers), Local 1611.
The unions have asked the Federal Court to overturn the decision by the federal government to issue labour market opinions (LMOs) that allow the company to recruit temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to do the jobs in question.
The unions said that the LMO process requires the government to conclude that there are no qualified Canadians available to work at the mine.
Mark Olsen, business manager of the Labourers Union, vehemently objected to that conclusion.
“There is a long history of mining in B.C. and there are many workers available with the skills required for this work.”
Olsen added that at the mine’s pre-production stage, his union has members that can perform the job of collecting a bulk sample of coal. He said if the mine’s owners then proceed to production and bring in specific equipment, “it’s a relatively simple matter to train for that equipment.”
Brian Cochrane, business manager of IUOE, Local 115, said in an affidavit that there are members of his union who are “ready, willing and able” to do the jobs.
“Right now, we have 474 people on our dispatch list who are out of work, including 100 in the northeastern region of B.C.,” he said.
Cochrane said that advertised wages at the Murray River project are “considerably lower” than what is paid for mining work in Canada.
The unions are arguing that federal officials did not follow their own regulations for the TFW program.
“Among other things, the regulations require that there be an actual labour shortage, that the jobs be advertised widely, that wages paid to foreign workers be equivalent to local wages, and that the employer make an effort to train local workers in required,” the union statement argues.