Facing pressure from two unions, a mining company that controversially hired foreign workers for a northern B.C. project announced Monday that its 16 temporary employees will return to China.

The workers were slated to prepare the bulk sample phase of the Murray River project, which includes the extraction of a 100,000-tonne coal sample to determine whether or not a coal mine is viable in the small community at the foot of the Canadian Rockies.

“This was a difficult decision for us, but we are very concerned about the cost and disruption this litigation brought by the unions has caused to the planning of the project,” said HD Mining spokeswoman Jody Shimkus.

She added the company will not bring additional workers to Tumbler Ridge “until we have reliable certainty” on the project.

HD Mining, a Chinese-owned company, received approval from the federal government for 201 temporary foreign worker permits in 2012.

The company said at the time there were no Canadians trained in the specialized form of mining that would be used at the proposed site at Murray River and stressed that the miners’ jobs would be temporary.

The International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union then launched a Federal Court case seeking to have the company’s temporary foreign worker permits thrown out.

“Even though we are disappointed with this development, we are encouraged by HD Mining’s ongoing commitment to the Murray River project,” said Darwin Wren, Mayor of Tumbler Ridge.

“We look forward to welcoming the workers back very soon, and to full development of this project.”

HD Mining said it will continue to contest the matter in court.