The Chinese mining firm at the centre of a controversial plan to use temporary foreign workers in a British Columbia coal mine has launched a two-pronged attack, threatening both a human rights complaint and legal action.
HD Mining distributed two separate letters to the media Thursday, one accusing the United Steelworkers Union of discrimination and the other putting the government on notice it may pursue claims for civil damages after federal ministers made public statements about the company.
The firm's Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C., 140 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, Alta., has drawn fire for bringing in temporary foreign workers instead of hiring Canadians. It's also currently facing a judicial review in which two unions are seeking to prevent the company from bringing more workers to Canada.
In a letter sent to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, one of the 17 Chinese workers already at the mine, Huizhi Li, includes screenshots of leaflets and other content on the Steelworkers' website that he claims violates his rights.
"They are likely to create contempt for Chinese persons and in particular Chinese mining workers," Huizhi said in the letter, dated Monday and written on HD Mining letterhead.
His letter goes on to say the information alleges Chinese miners will work for reduced wages and in substandard conditions, which denies Canadians opportunity to those jobs.
Steve Hunt, the union's western Canadian director, said the accusation is bizarre, because his union has only ever been fighting for workers' rights.
"I don't think it's well-founded, obviously. It's something that we expected all along," he said in an interview. "When all else fails pull the racial card out and suggest we have something untowards any worker coming in to Canada."
Among the evidence submitted in the letter is a Steelworkers' press release that contends temporary foreign workers are exploited through low wages, no benefits and little workplace protection.
Company spokeswoman Jody Shimkus said she couldn't speak to how the worker's complaint arose, but said it was "supported" by the company. She noted the accusations workers would be paid reduced wages is not true.
Workers will be paid between $25 and $40 per hour, with total yearly compensation between $84,000 and $113,000 including pay, benefits, housing and food, she said.
"These workers are not being underpaid."
She added the company is spending $50 million on Canadian goods, services and contractors, meaning it will be a "huge benefit" to the province.