The mayor of a B.C. town that's been put in a spotlight as a result of a battle over foreign workers is calling for a truce to get a stalled $300-million mining project back on track.
"This dispute between HD Mining and the unions around the temporary foreign workers certainly is bringing a lot of attention to Tumbler Ridge – and most of that has not been positive," Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darwin Wren said on Tuesday. "What I'm suggesting is that HD Mining and [the unions] need to work together to find a solution to advance the project in a way that everyone can be proud of.
"And I think that they can do that if they put some effort into it."
Mr. Wren was referring to a dispute that flared up in the fall, when the first batch of a scheduled 200 foreign workers was headed for Tumbler Ridge to work at the Murray River coal project.
Project proponent HD Mining, a B.C. company backed by Chinese interests, got the green light to bring the workers to B.C. from China through Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Last November, the B.C. locals of two unions – the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union – went to court seeking to have the workers' permits cancelled.
The unions maintain HD Mining could have hired Canadian workers for the jobs and that the company advertised positions at less-than-going rates. HD Mining, however, insists it was not able to hire workers that had the required skills for its operation and that it advertised positions at competitive wages.
The United Steelworkers, while not part of the federal court action, has been a vocal critic of HD Mining's plans to hire foreign workers and has also raised questions about the company's ownership and control, alleging in a December report that HD Mining has close ties to the Chinese government.
HD Mining says its biggest shareholder is Huiyong Holdings B.C., which is owned by Huiyong Holdings China. The Chinese parent is described as a private company that runs mines in China. HD Mining says the workers it planned to hire are employed at Huiyong operations in China.
But HD Mining has not disclosed the names or locations of any of those mines. In an interview Monday, Penggui Yan – chair of both the Chinese and B.C. arms of Huiyong – said the state does not own shares in Huiyong, issuing a terse 'no' in response to the question.
Last month, citing the cost and uncertainty of the court case, HD Mining said it would send 16 workers who had arrived in Tumbler Ridge back to China.
Without the expected work force, a planned bulk sampling program is also on hold.
"The schedule will have to be re-planned," Mr. Yan said on Monday. "Shareholders are saying – let's wait until uncertainty is over. That is very painful. That is very costly."
The unions would like to see the mine developed but also want to see the regulations and intent of Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program upheld, IUOE spokesman Brian Cochrane said on Tuesday.
"We understand the economic importance to the province but we just want to see it in compliance with the spirit of the temporary foreign worker program."