BY RICHARD GILBERT - A construction union is launching a legal challenge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to revoke a coal mine exploration permit issued by the provincial government to a Chinese-owned company for a project near Tumbler Ridge.
“Our union contends that serious health and safety issues were ignored when the permit was granted to HD Mining in March 2012,” said Stephen Hunt, United Steel Workers (USW) Western Canada director.
“We have grave concerns about the decision to grant this permit, the process that led to this decision and the potential consequences.”
The USW filed an application for a judicial review on Dec. 19 that claims B.C.’s chief inspector of mines acted improperly and contrary to legal obligations by granting an exploration permit to HD Mining International for the Murray River coal mine.
In particular, the USW alleges the permit was issued without proper consideration of the serious safety concerns that arise with the use of non-English-speaking employees.
Instead, advice was provided by the chief inspector, which was outside of the normal statutory process.
They also allege that the chief inspector doesn’t allow any means to legally enforce his recommendations.
The USW’s application for a judicial review names the chief inspector of mines, the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines and HD Mining International as respondents.
It relies on evidence gathered from provincial and federal government documents, including files obtained from requests made under freedom of information legislation.
In May, HD Mining upheld its right in federal court to import hundreds of Chinese temporary foreign workers (TFWs) for the construction of the proposed coal mine.
Justice Russel Zinn dismissed an application by the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers to revoke Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) that were granted to HD Mining by Human Resources and Services Development Canada (HRSDC).
An LMO is an opinion provided by HRSDC to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which assesses the impact that hiring TFWs may have on the Canadian labour market.
The LMOs provide HD Mining with the authorization to hire 201 Chinese nationals for the construction of the $300 million Murray River underground coal mine.
The unions were granted public interest standing by the federal court to bring an application that would halt the importation of the TFWs through a judicial review.
In particular, the judicial review investigated the decision-making process within HRSDC and challenged the decision by an officer to issue positive LMOs to HD Mining.
Justice Zinn rejected the unions’ arguments that the LMOs failed to ensure there were no Canadians to do the work and the TFWs were offered wages far below prevailing rates.
According to court documents, HD Mining received at least 300 resumes from Canadian citizens or permanent residents, who applied to work at the proposed project.
However, the company didn’t hire a single Canadian applicant to work at the mine, claiming they were not qualified.
HD Mining placed advertisements for various positions that required the ability to speak Mandarin as a qualification.
In addition, HD Mining developed and submitted a training and transition plan to HRSDC which was designed to ensure a safe work environment and to eventually transition fully to Canadian workers over a 14-year period.
The Murray River mine project will utilize a long-wall mining method, which is not widely used in Canada.
The company claims the method is highly mechanized and specialized, so it requires Chinese workers skilled in this technique.