Mandarin a requirement for foreign miners application: court docs
A coal miner drives a scoop while working in a mine in this file photo. (Bristol Herald Courier, David Crigger)
James Keller, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, December 8, 2012 12:04PM PST
Last Updated Sunday, December 9, 2012 12:15PM PST
A mining company under scrutiny over its plan to bring 201 Chinese miners to a proposed project in northern British Columbia listed Mandarin as a language requirement when it applied for temporary foreign worker permits, newly released documents reveal.
The Federal Court released a package of documents Friday linked to HD Mining's proposed Murray River underground coal mine, which has been overshadowed by controversy over the use of temporary foreign workers.
Among those documents is one of HD Mining's applications to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada for a labour market opinion -- an assessment conducted by the federal department that assesses the need to hire foreign workers instead of Canadians.
In a field labelled "language requirements," the company wrote: "The Chinese workers will speak Chinese in a team environment and will receive English-language training, as per the attached (temporary foreign worker) transition plan."
The documents were released as part of a court challenge launched by two unions, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union, which are seeking to have the temporary foreign worker permits revoked.
The controversy over the mine has also prompted the federal human resources minister to announce a review of the entire temporary foreign worker program, while the B.C. government, while a strong defender of the mine, has launched its own investigation into allegations recruiters in China charged fees.
Several unions have already accused the company of failing to attempt to hire or train Canadians before resorting to foreign workers, pointing to several job ads that specifically referred to Mandarin. Opponents have argued the mention of Mandarin in those job ads -- which the company has insisted was a mistake -- proves HD Mining was never interested in hiring Canadians in the first place.
The unions are now arguing the Mandarin language requirement in the temporary foreign worker permit applications suggests HD Mining intends to use the Chinese miners permanently.
"If these are jobs that Canadians aren't able to do presently, then they're supposed to transition those jobs to Canadians" union lawyer Charles Gordon told reporters outside court on Friday.
"How do you do that if the people who have those jobs can't speak to the Canadians because they only speak Mandarin?"
HD Mining issued a statement Friday that said the company included Mandarin on the temporary foreign worker application simply to indicate the language spoken by the foreign workers it had already recruited.
"When we were unable to recruit any qualified Canadians, we applied for and received permission from (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) to hire temporary foreign workers," the statement said.
"The application required (HD Mining) to identify the language spoken by the foreign workers. The qualified foreign workers we recruited are Mandarin speaking. Mandarin is the language that these workers speak but was not a requirement in our recruitment efforts."
The temporary foreign worker program is designed to fill temporary labour shortages. To obtain a permit, companies must demonstrate they attempted to hire Canadian workers but were unsuccessful.
In the foreign worker application that was released Friday, HD Mining indicates it has developed a "comprehensive transition plan" to eventually train and hire Canadians. It also lists "transfer of new skills or knowledge to Canadians" as a potential benefit of the project.
But at least one official within the federal government raised concerns about the prospect of training Canadians with Mandarin-speaking foreign workers.
"Lack of requirement for English ... raises some concerns regarding the employer's ability to attract/train and transition to Canadian workers," a foreign worker officer wrote in a document labelled "bulk request assessment and recommendation," also released Friday
"The employer has stated that English-language training will be provided, that interpreters and English-speaking foremen will facilitate on-the-job training and transfer of skills to Canadians. Still, it is reasonable to question how successful the employer will be in attracting, training or retaining Canadians while the language at the mine operation is predominantly Mandarin."
However, the officer concludes there are no rules against refusing foreign worker permits based on workplace language and recommends the foreign worker permits be approved.
Last month, HD Mining announced a deal with Northern Lights College to design a curriculum for training new miners. The agreement lays out a 10-year timeline to transition to Canadian workers, the company said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Court ordered the federal government Friday to hand over more documents to the unions, including every labour market opinion application submitted for the mine and all supporting documents.
The unions will return to court next week to ask for an injunction to prevent more Chinese miners from arriving until the court decides whether the temporary foreign worker permits are valid. So far, 17 Chinese miners have arrived at the mine, with 60 more due later this month.
The company is also asking the Federal Court of Appeal to throw out the case entirely. HD Mining is appealing a decision that granted the unions standing to challenge the foreign worker permits.
HD Mining is a partnership between China-based Huiyong Holding Group, which owns a 55 per cent stake, and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc.