Thursday, March 24, 2016
HD Mining sends temporary Chinese workers home
The B.C. mining company that ignited a firestorm in 2012 over its plans to hire Chinese workers through the temporary foreign program has sent its first batch of workers home. The mine has been idled as it enters the next stage of permitting. HD Mining’s 51 workers, who came to work at the Murray River coal project near Tumbler Ridge in B.C.’s northeast, are headed back to China. “They’ve all returned,” says Blair Lekstrom, senior advisor to the chairman of HD Mining Penggui Yan and himself a former B.C. cabinet minister. “They were approved to work on the bulk sample only."
Despite a bleak market for metallurgical coal, the project is still still moving ahead. “We’ve completed our bulk sample where you take the coal and send it for testing, and we’re entering the mines act permitting process in May, which can take six months to a year,” says Lekstrom. The $688-million project, which will seek approval from the Canadian Envrionmental Assessment Agency in the spring, received a green light from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office last October.
A public firestorm over the project erupted in late 2012 when the company noted in its application to the federal government to hire temporary foreign workers that the mine would be a “predominantly Mandarin” workplace. The company argued that HD wanted workers trained in an underground mining technique called longwall mining, popular in China and unused to date in B.C. The plan was, and still is, says Lekstrom, for the Chinese workers to teach their future Canadian counterparts as the project got up and running.
Two unions subsequently took HD Mining to court, and when a federal court ruled in favour of the company, it cleared the way for the company to hire temporary foreign workers for its Northern B.C. mine. According to Lekstrom, the company’s plans are unchanged: "We'll follow every rule there is," he says, "if we have qualified Canadians who want to work for us, that’s our first priority.” To that end, HD Mining has signed a memorandum of understanding with Northern Lights College to offer training in the technique to future workers, which all in all has made the decision to hire temporary foreign workers a costly one, but necessary for the utilization of longwall mining. Says Lekstrom, "There’s a myth that temporary foreign workers cost less when it's just the opposite."