Union representatives have offered to help HD Mining find local workers to replace the company's 16 foreign employees being sent back home to China.

The company announced Monday it was sending the temporary Chinese workers away while it contends with a costly legal challenge launched over their controversial hiring.

On Tuesday, United Steelworkers’ Union director Stephen Hunt said the move represents an opportunity for HD Mining to reverse course and “do right by Canadian workers.”

"We've said from the very beginning that we believe these jobs should go to Canadian workers,” Hunt said in a statement. “We continue to be ready to assist the company find the miners needed to operate it."

The 16 workers were slated to prepare the bulk sample phase of HD Mining’s Murray River project, which includes the extraction of a 100,000-tonne coal sample to determine whether a coal mine is viable.

The company said the legal action has put the Tumbler Ridge project on hold, and that additional workers will not be brought in until it regains stability.

“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,” spokeswoman Jody Shimkus said.

The federal government approved 201 temporary foreign worker permits for the company last year but two unions, the International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union, have asked for a judicial review of the decision.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darwin Wren expressed concern about how the project’s delay would impact his community, located in northern B.C. at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s a large project and a lot of focus has been put on the temporary foreign workers but it’s important to realize there’s probably equally as many above-ground jobs that will be created for Canadians over the couple of years in the construction phase,” Wren said.

HD Mining has said that there were no Canadians trained in the specialized form of mining that would be used at the proposed site, and stressed that the miners’ jobs would be temporary.

But earlier this month, a federal judge forced the company to turn over hundreds of Canadian applicants’ resumes to the unions, who said the documents disprove the claims about a lack of qualified local labour.

"Over the course of this scandalous decision to utilize temporary foreign workers, it was demonstrated time and time again that there are plenty of Canadians who are ready and able to take on this type of work,” said Hunt, who called on HD Mining to review the applications and find appropriate candidates.

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