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As many as 30 mine workers from China are expected to arrive at Tumbler Ridge within the next few weeks to work on HD Mining’s Murray River coal project. This is an undated street scene made in Tumbler Ridge.

Tumbler Ridge Chamber of Commerce

As many as 30 mine workers from China are expected to arrive at Tumbler Ridge within the next few weeks to work on HD Mining's Murray River coal project.

The group will be the first foreign workers to arrive at Murray River since a Federal Court judge in May dismissed a case brought by two labour unions. The unions challenged federal government decisions that cleared the way for up to 201 foreign workers to be employed at the project.

The workers are expected to arrive before or near the end of the month, HD Mining spokeswoman Jody Shimkus said in a recent interview.

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The company is not currently booking media interviews with the workers and intends to focus on its project, Ms. Shimkus said.

But the workers are likely to be subject to considerable interest in Tumbler Ridge and farther afield after a court case that cast a spotlight on the increasing numbers of workers coming to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Two unions – Local 1611 of the Construction and Specialized Workers' Union and Local 115 of the International Union of Operating Engineers – went to court last year in an attempt to have federal-court decisions that allowed HD Mining to hire foreign workers overturned.

In the Federal Court case, union lawyers maintained that Vancouver-based HD Mining overlooked applications from qualified Canadian workers, planned to pay foreign workers at lower rates than Canadian workers doing comparable jobs and did not have adequate plans to train and hire a local workforce over the life of the proposed mine.

HD Mining, however, maintained that it required workers who were familiar with longwall mining – a mining method not commonly used in Canadian coal operations – that it had met or exceeded all of the requirements of the TFW program.

In his decision, federal court judge Russell Zinn found that the government officer who had reviewed the company's applications to hire foreign workers had taken such factors into account. The judge also found that even though the officer had concerns about how the widespread use of Mandarin would affect HD Mining's ability to attract and train Canadians, that concern was not enough to nix the applications.

"In my view, this Court would be sending the wrong message and it would arguably have a chilling effect on administrative reasons to hold, in effect, that an officer cannot express his or her concerns but nevertheless make a positive determination if, on balance, that is warranted," the judge wrote.

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Since the case was launched last year, Ottawa had announced changes to the TFW program, including new processing fees for employers applying for labour market opinions and that English and French are the only languages that can be used in advertisements and LMO applications.

Employers that want to hire temporary foreign workers must first obtain an LMO that shows there is a need for the foreign worker to do the job.

The Murray River project, a proposed $300-million enterprise, is subject to an assessment by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. That review began in May.

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