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Court dismisses union challenge of temporary foreign worker permits

The federal court has dismissed a union challenge of temporary foreign worker permits that were granted to HD Mining.

Last year the coal mining company received permits to hire 201 Chinese workers for its Murray River coal project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Two local unions challenged that decision, bringing the labour market opinions -- required by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to show the company made sufficient efforts to hire Canadians before hiring temporary foreign workers -- into question.

Despite losing the case, both unions remain hopeful.

"Trade unions have exposed a fundamentally broken Temporary Foreign Worker Program and won in the most important court, the court of public opinion," said Brian Cochrane, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers -- one of two unions granted the judicial review.

HD Mining stated that it needed Chinese workers because they were using a mining technique, called long-wall mining, that Canadians were not familiar with.

"Justice [Russel] Zinn excluded affidavit evidence we introduced that showed no long-wall mining techniques would be used in the bulk sample coal mining development stage," said Mark Olsen, business manager for the Construction and Specialized Workers Union -- the other union in the case.

However Justice Zinn ruled in favour of HD Mining, stating that there was no evidence of this.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour thinks the problem is government's lack of interest in protecting Canadian workers.

He questioned why HD Mining had not trained Canadian workers so they could be familiar with this type of mining technique instead of hiring temporary foreign workers.

"If the company followed the rules, despite piles of evidence showing not only willing Canadians ready to take these jobs, and evidence the company and the government had no intention of training Canadians for years to come, then clearly the rules do not exist in the interest of Canadian workers," stated Sinclair.

Despite the ruling, Justice Zinn noted that further progress is required on HD Mining’s plan to transition mining jobs to Canadian workers.

The company recently stated in a press release that it is developing a training curriculum for long‐wall mining with Northern Lights College. The press release also said that once it is operating, the Murray River project would create approximately 600 direct and 700 indirect jobs.

In April the federal government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, including removing an option that allowed employers to pay 15 per cent lower wages than Canadian prevailing wage rates.

"Whether it's the Royal Bank, HD Mining, or Tim Horton's, Canadians want to know that they will have access to these jobs. Canadians also support continued immigration to Canada, not the recipe for exploitation that the Temporary Foreign Worker program has become," concluded Sinclair.

Aurora Tejeida is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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