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Sides in Chinese miners dispute spar over documents

Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said earlier this month that she was not satisfied with the process that resulted in permission for foreign workers to come to the B.C. mining project.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

As the clock ticks down to the pending arrival of dozens more Chinese miners in Tumbler Ridge, labour unions and the company that wants to bring the workers to B.C., as well as the federal government, continued to square off in court.

Seventeen workers have already arrived in Tumbler Ridge and another 60 are scheduled to arrive some time in December for jobs at HD Mining International's Murray River coal project.

In Federal Court on Monday, a lawyer for the federal government agreed to show some Labour Market Opinions regarding foreign workers to counsel for the labour groups as the two sides spar over how much information should be provided.

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"We want more than the [Labour Market Opinions]," Charles Gordon, a lawyer representing the unions that have brought the case, said in court. "We are seeking the documents the [government] officer would have considered in issuing the positive LMOs."

Counsel for the federal government has accused the unions of casting an excessively broad net that would require the government to turn over reams of information that would not necessarily be relevant to the case.

Under Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program, employers are required to obtain LMOs before hiring from abroad. As part of the process, employers have to show the efforts they made to hire locally and that wages for foreign workers will be in line with prevailing pay rates for Canadians working in similar jobs in the region.

Two labour groups – B.C. locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Constructions and Specialized Workers Union – filed a court action seeking a judicial review of Labour Market Opinions that allowed Vancouver-based HD Mining to hire 201 foreign workers for its coal project near Tumbler Ridge.

The unions argue that the company advertised jobs at wage rates that were up to $17 an hour below those paid for nearby jobs and discouraged applicants by including Mandarin language requirements in job postings.

The company maintains it offered jobs at competitive rates and that Mandarin was not a requirement for any postions that were advertised.

HD Mining and its major shareholders, along with the federal government, opposed the unions' right to pursue the case. Last week, Judge Douglas Campbell ruled the unions had public interest standing to bring the case.

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As the court case continues, HD Mining has announced a ribbon-cutting on an employee housing project in Tumbler Ridge and a program with a local college to train Canadian workers.

Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc., a minority shareholder in HD that has other coal interests in B.C., on Sunday said it was putting its Wapiti River coal project on hold as a result of a "deluge" of calls from concerned investors.

The unions that have brought the court case characterized that step as an attempt to intimidate provincial and federal governments. Wapiti River is an early-stage project that has yet to begin the province's environmental assessment process.

Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said earlier this month she was not satisfied with what she had learned about the process that led to hundreds of foreign workers getting jobs at the B.C. mine and that Ottawa would review the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

In an update Monday, Canadian Dehua said it was communicating with investors to "explain the nature of the ongoing litigation and other concerns" and that it expected business at the site to resume.

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