Temporary foreign mine workers come under fire

Opposition to plans for foreign workers in Northern BC


A storm is brewing over a mining company in the Tumbler Ridge area using temporary foreign workers in their underground coal operations.

The mining company has secured a labour market opinion, a federally managed process by which a company demonstrates that efforts were made to hire Canadians for the jobs, that the wages offered are consistent with similar jobs and that the working conditions meet current provincial labour market standards.

However, unions like the United Steelworkers, and the provincial NDP are crying foul, saying that these ‘temporary workers’ are likely to be at the mines for up to ten years, and scoffing at the idea that Canadian miners cannot be found, or trained, to these positions.

“Clearly the Liberal government mismanaged negotiations with foreign-owned mining companies from the beginning, and they squandered the opportunity to ensure B.C. jobs go to British Columbians,” said New Democrat mining critic Doug Donaldson. “The BC Liberal government was aware that mining companies intended to supply their own workers, yet they didn’t even raise a concern during negotiations.”

HD Mining vice president Jody Shimkus has said that the company will need to rely on temporary foreign workers for operations in B.C. for 10 years. Donaldson quotes Shimkus as saying, “The mining sector as a whole has a shortage of skilled labour right now.”

“The government’s contention is that there would be no Canadian people who would be able to do these jobs,” said Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald. “Surely these are opportunities Canadian workers could take. If the contention is that Canadian miners are not trained for this type of mining then that speaks to the shortcomings in the BC government’s skills and training program.”

It is not just that there very likely are Canadians who could be trained to these jobs, Macdonald says, or what he calls a lack of clarity from the government on just how temporary the workers are. It’s the protection of the foreign workers themselves.

“I have a little confidence that we have in place any type of program that can assure protection for these workers. The safety record in Chinese mines is abysmal. There’s no question there are problems in terms of the expertise of these miners. The first obligation of any employer is to make sure its employees are safe. The employees have to be empowered and feel they have the right to insist on safe working conditions. That is a problem with all temporary workers. They do not feel empowered.

“These employees are subject to exploitation and find it difficult to insist their working conditions are safe.”

But the bottom line is, Macdonald says, that most people are not going to buy that Canadians can’t be trained to work in these mines.

“That’s what it is. They want to bring their own people in. They can pay them less, control them more. They don’t want Canadian miners and the BC government is complicit in this.”

Late last week the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training put out a fact sheet on temporary foreign workers.

The jobs are temporary, for six to eight months, the Ministry fact sheet says — a part of the bulk sample process. The jobs are temporary  while the exploration process takes place.

“B.C.’s government is committed to making sure that if these mines are  found to be viable, British Columbians will be able to do the jobs that will be created in northeastern B.C.,” the fact sheet reads.

“In fact, there are numerous British Columbians already working at this site and the government is working with the company to determine their training needs should the projects go ahead. The ministry is working with post-secondary institutions to develop and deliver training to support skills development in underground mining in the Northeast.”

The fact sheet goes on to say that the company advertised these jobs in a manner consistent with the  regulatory requirements set out in the federal immigration and refugee  protection regulation (temporary foreign workers). The company advertised for workers through its own and the BC Mining Association’s websites, Canada’s national job bank, local and provincial newspapers, job boards and fairs at a wage consistent with similar jobs at Grand Cache Coal in Alberta (which also uses temporary workers).

“The workers hired for this were recruited due to a lack of individuals in Canada with the necessary long wall mine training. In fact, Grand Cache Coal, one of only two underground mines currently operating in Canada, also uses TFWs due to the shortage of skilled labour in this field and the lack of individuals willing to work in underground coal mines.

“The company advertised these jobs at rates equal to or above similar jobs at Grand Cache Coal in Alberta.”

The government says the company, HD Mining, submitted a request to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for 201 temporary foreign workers.