As the Canadian government moves to simplify eligibility rules for foreign workers in key trades, construction and engineering unions in British Columbia are up in arms about a decision to allow a mining company to import more than 200 workers despite not hiring a single Canadian.
Two major trade unions – the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), Local 115, and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union (Labourers), Local 1611 – which together represent the bulk of skilled workers on mine sites, have launched an application in the Federal Court for a judicial review of a temporary foreign worker (TFW) decision relating to a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) which will allow HD Mining International to bring in more than 200 foreign workers in to work in their mine near Tumbler Ridge.
Brian Cochrane, business manager for IUOE, Local 115, says the company has publicly acknowledged receiving more than 300 domestic applications and yet not hired a single Canadian.
He dismisses HD’s claim that none of the domestic applicants were suitably qualified.
“This is not believable or acceptable,” Cochrane says. “For one thing, Canada is known worldwide for its extensive mining industry, both underground and open pit. For another, HD Mining International has known for 10 years they were going to need miners. That’s ample time to ramp up a recruitment and training program for Canadians if there was a worker shortage.”
Cochrane says decisions such as the HD Mining case undermine public and worker confidence in the LMO process, which is meant to ensure domestic workers get first crack at Canadian jobs and that wages and conditions are not diluted through use of foreign workers.
Under this process, any employer wishing to hire foreign workers must first prove that there are no suitable Canadian workers and that the wages and working conditions offered to the workers in question match prevailing conditions in the same occupation and region concerned.
Cochrane adds that he is disappointed about the extent to which unions have been met with resistance from both the Federal Government and the company, and has called on the Government to work to correct flaws in the system.
In response to the union’s complaints, the company says it conducted an extensive efforts to advertise for local workers and the pay on offer to the foreign workers (between $25 and $40 per hour for a range of positions including mining engineers, industrial electricians and underground coal miners and $90k to $130k annually for foremen/women) is competitive with local rates for similar work.
The company also says it has put in place a training and transition plan to eventually transition fully to Canadian workers.