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Temporary foreign workers prepare to start work on a new police station in Edmonton, on April 30, 2012. In Alberta's stretched labour market, some employers have had to turn to overseas labour.

The B.C. government is investigating allegations that foreign workers applying for jobs in the province may have been told they had to pay fees to apply for mining positions in the province.

The investigation will look at whether there have been any infractions of the provincial Employment Standards Act, a spokesman for B.C.'s Ministry of Jobs, Skills and Tourism said on Monday.

Temporary foreign workers come to Canada under a federal program but once on the job, are subject to provincial labour laws. Those laws prohibit fees being charged to would-be employees, the spokesman said.

"It is a serious allegation," said Jobs Minister Pat Bell of a news release issued by Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

"I hope he has substance to it. If he does, we will get to the bottom of it."

But that's not good enough for the B.C. Federation of Labour, which has been a vocal critic of the decision earlier this month to allow foreign, temporary workers into B.C. coal mines.

"The only sensible thing to do is to suspend the permits and conduct a full investigation," Sinclair said in the release.

"We have a duty to the unemployed Canadians who are looking for work and willing to train, and we have a duty to ensure that when foreign workers come to Canada, they do so with their rights protected, not trampled on."

Sinclair alleged the jobs weren't advertised fairly at going rates to workers in Canada and recruiters were asking applicants "to pay a modern-day head tax."

In a story last week, the Tyee reported that a reporter posing as a would-be applicant for mining positions in B.C. was told he would have to pay fees as part of the application process.

HD Mining, the Vancouver-based company that has obtained regulatory approval to bring 200 Temporary Foreign Workers to B.C. to work at the proposed Murray River coal mine, says the company does not use recruiters and denounced the practice of charging illegal fees.

HD Mining is working on the Murray River project with Chinese-backed Dehua International, which has interests in three other coal projects in B.C.

Both companies say they have nothing to do with the recruitment ads in question in China.

The translated recruiting ad included the promise of "a possibility of immigrating to Canada" and the ability to "sponsor your family to Canada, too."

The ads were placed on the employment pages of the site for the Chinese provinces of Shanxi, Henan and Sichuan, but agents did not know which mine they were recruiting for, only that they were in Canada.

The advertisement offered miners jobs in Canadian mines at a rate of $25 to $30 per hour, but the recruiter said in the message exchange that the wage is actually between $22 and $25 per hour.

The agent said applicants need a mining certificate or a reference from a company to be accepted, but the training and letter from the company could be provided for an extra 1,800 yuan ($180).

The miners' presence in Canada is dependent on their employer and they will live in dorms, must be able to speak 100 English words and are allowed to do what they please when not at work.

The recruiter said the 100 English words can be taught for an additional 1,000 yuan ($160).

The recruiter said he was working for a British Columbia-based company called the Canada CIBS Investment and Trade Group.

The recruiter also mentioned the company will be searching for workers for a gold mine in Saskatchewan shortly, and those positions will cost workers 98,000 yuan each ($15,500).

A person who answered the telephone at CIBS offices in Vancouver said the Canadian operation had no knowledge of the ads and referred a journalist's questions to the company's office in Chengdu, China. Calls to that office were not returned.

Dehua managers have said it needs to hire foreign workers because there is a shortage of experienced underground coal miners in Canada.

Labour groups have disputed that rationale.

With a report from The Canadian Press