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Decline portal construction at the Murray River Project in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Résumés of workers who applied for jobs at a B.C. coal project show there were qualified Canadian applicants for positions that went to foreign employees, says a recently filed court document.

People who applied for the jobs included workers with extensive mining experience, the document says. It was filed January 31 by lawyers for two B.C. unions that are fighting plans by Vancouver-based HD Mining to hire 201 temporary foreign workers for its Murray River Coal project near Tumbler Ridge.

"The resumes that are now disclosed show that there were a large number of qualified Canadian applications for the positions for which HD Mining was advertising and for which it was granted LMOs [Labour Market Opinions]." the document states. "Most of these were designated as 'non-related', despite resumes that indicated that the qualifications required by HRSDC were met, and were not even granted an interview or given any further consideration."

The court filing is part of a case that began last November when two labour groups filed a court challenge to the process that cleared the way for HD Mining to hire the temporary foreign workers for the project.

Sixteen of those workers arrived last fall and 60 more had been expected to land in December. But those additional workers did not arrive and the company recently announced the 16 workers who had come to Tumbler Ridge would be returning to China as a result of the costs and uncertainty caused by the litigation.

The company has maintained it needed to hire foreign workers because it was unable to find experienced Canadian workers. HD Mining's proposed mine would be an underground operation using a longwall mining method not currently used in Canada, although it is widely used in the United States.

Skills in other types of mining do not necessarily translate into skills required for an underground longwall mining operation, HD Mining spokeswoman Jody Shimkus said Sunday in an e-mail.

HD Mining says the foreign workers were needed for bulk sampling, a test phase to determine if a deposit can be profitably mined.

"If these experienced miners from China are not allowed to do the work for bulk sampling then this will likely result in there being no work for Canadians on the many above-ground jobs that will be available for this project," she said.

The unions – B.C. locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Constructions and Specialised Workers' Union – have applied for a judicial review of the process that allowed HD Mining to hire foreign workers.

The court document says HD Mining received 230 résumés from Canadian applicants and hired 12 Canadians.

The résumés themselves have not been released.

Much of the court case to date has focused on document disclosure, with the unions arguing they need to see the documents and background material that the company filed as part of its LMO applications.

Before they can hire foreign workers, companies have to obtain an LMO. As part of that process, would-be employers have to show what efforts they made to hire Canadians and that the wages they intend to pay foreign workers are in line with prevailing wage rates for Canadian workers doing the same type of jobs.

HD Mining fought in court against releasing the résumés but agreed to provide them after the court ordered federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley to review the efforts she had made to get the company to disclose documents requested in the case.

In November, Ms. Finley said she had concerns about the process that approved foreign workers for the B.C. project and said the government would review the temporary foreign worker program.

There were more than 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada at the end of 2011, compared to about 200,000 at the end of 2007, according to figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Academics and labour groups have voiced concerns about the increase of workers coming to Canada through the program over the past decade, citing the potential for downward pressure on wages as well as employee welfare concerns.

HD Mining International is based in Vancouver and backed by Chinese interests.

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