Federal minister Diane Finley should do more to compel the company at the centre of a dispute over foreign workers at a B.C. coal mine to turn over documents related to the case, lawyers representing two unions said in court Wednesday.
Such authority is "implicit" under the rules of Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program and is the "only way the government can maintain integrity over the immigration system," lawyer Lorne Waldman told the court, adding that some employers would be "thrilled" if they thought they could hire temporary foreign workers without being held accountable for commitments they made to the government.
"I would think the Canadian public would be rather concerned that employers are being allowed to bring into Canada foreign workers based on promises that are completely unenforceable," he said.
A lawyer for the federal government, however, argued that regulations do not give the minister the authority to compel documents to be produced and that the sweeping authority suggested by the unions would amount to an abuse of power.
The arguments over document disclosure are part of a broader dispute over Chinese workers at the Murray River coal project, located near Tumbler Ridge and operated by Vancouver-based HD Mining.
Last November, locals of the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union – went to Federal Court seeking a judicial review of Labour Market Opinions obtained by HD Mining. The LMOs cleared the way for the company to hire nearly 200 foreign workers for the project, which is currently in the exploration phase.
As part of the process of obtaining LMOs, companies have to provide information to the federal government about wages, jobs to be filled by foreign workers and efforts to hire domestic workers.
The unions have challenged the LMOs, saying HD Mining could have found Canadian workers to do the work and that the company advertised jobs at less than going rates.
The company, however, insists that it advertised jobs at competitive wage rates and that it was not able to hire qualified workers for its project.
Last month, a Federal Court judge turned down the unions' application for an injunction that would have prevented more workers from coming to Tumbler Ridge. Fifteen arrived in October and others are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.
In another ruling also issued in December, a judge ordered the government to turn over documents that included supporting materials for LMO applications.
The documents are in the company's possession and the government has said it does not have the power to force it to provide them. Ottawa has requested the documents but to date the company has not complied.
"We are not intending to be difficult or unco-operative here," Alex Stojicevic, counsel for HD Mining, said in a telephone interview after the court hearing. "We have a profound concern about a third-party union using what is a court process for document discovery from a private company."
The unions have already been provided more than 600 pages of documents and the LMO decisions, Mr. Stojicevic said.