HD Mining International, building a large coal mine in northern British Columbia using Chinese workers, will take four years before it hires even a single Canadian miner, and another decade beyond that before the work force is fully local, court documents show.
According to documents made public on Wednesday by the B.C. Federation of Labour, HD Mining plans to use up to 201 workers from China to staff the mine through 30 months of construction and two years of ramp-up and mining.
It plans to phase in a Canadian work force at the so-called Murray River coal mine, near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., in the subsequent 10 years, at a rate of 10 per cent per year, documents showed. Murray River is expected to have a mine life of 40 years.
The revelations could deepen the controversy around the company – majority-owned by Chinese coal miner Huiyong Holding – and the use of temporary foreign workers in an industry suffering from skills shortages after demand for metals skyrocketed over the past decade.
Local unions were in court on Wednesday seeking an injunction that would prevent any more workers coming to the project pending a judicial review of the process that cleared the hirings.
"All along we've been told they plan to hire Canadians as quickly as possible, but when you look at the document that's been approved by both province and the federal government, it shows that it's a full 15 years before the last temporary foreign worker is gone," said Michael Gardiner, spokesperson for the B.C. Federation of Labour, which represents 500,000 unionized workers.
The Chinese workers were cleared under the federal government's temporary foreign workers program. If an injunction is granted, it would come just as HD is on the cusp of bringing another 60 workers to the site this month.
Chinese workers began arriving at the site, some 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver, in recent weeks, sparking outrage by unions who allege HD Mining did not make sufficient efforts to hire locally before going abroad.
Unions also assert the company made Mandarin a requirement when it advertised for the jobs in Canada, and posted wages below the industry norm. HD denies all of those claims.
The company plans to use so-called longwall coal mining at Murray River, a method that has not been used in British Columbia before and which involves shaving a coal face with a long shear so that it falls onto a conveyor belt.
Murray River, a $300-million project, will produce some 6 million tonnes of steel-making coal a year once it is at full production, or about a third of current provincial output.
"HD Mining will be utilizing a longwall mining method not used in Canada," the company says in the court documents. "This method is highly mechanized and specialized, requiring workers skilled in this technique."
HD, which could not be reached for comment Wednesday, has said it opted to bring in workers from Huiyong Holding after a review of 300 applicants in Canada failed to raise qualified candidates.
Industry insiders are concerned the polemic could jeopardize access to the temporary foreign worker program at a time when experts are forecasting a deficit of some 140,000 workers over the next decade as new mines are built and mining veterans retire.
In B.C. alone, some 16,700 jobs will open up in the sector over the same period as the work force ages and amid competition from the oil sands sector for skilled tradespeople, engineers and managers.
With files from reporter Wendy Stueck.