Two labour unions want a federal court to overturn temporary work permits issued to Chinese workers at a coal mine in northern British Columbia, arguing that there are unemployed Canadians who could fill the jobs.
Permits have been granted under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program to 200 Chinese workers to conduct preliminary work at HD Mining International Ltd.'s Murray River mine near Tumbler Ridge.
The company has said it was not able to find workers in Canada with the specialized skills necessary.
"Poppycock," said Lee Loftus, president of the BC Building Trades union.
"We have skilled people that have operated underground equipment, we have open-pit mining people, we have all the types of mining that take place in the world available here. We may not know the brand name of the piece of equipment that they bring with them, but we certainly understand the process."
The court action filed by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 says HD Mining received 300 applications despite the fact the company didn't advertise widely and imposed "unreasonable and unnecessary requirements on Canadian applicants."
The documents also accuse the company of paying wages to the Chinese workers that are about $10 an hour below the prevailing wages in the industry in Canada, and no benefits.
The unions say the permits for the Murray River workers were approved in violation of the federal regulations, which stipulate that foreign workers can only be used in situations where a labour shortage exists.
"We're concerned that there are companies from outside of Canada that are bringing their money to the table to buy resources and we want to make sure that, whether we agree or disagree with regards to how those resources are removed from Canada, that there's benefits to Canadians no matter what, and this isn't just a benefit to a corporate community that takes the resource and the employment opportunities," Loftus said.
The unions want the court to declare the permits invalid. The application also seeks an order preventing Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration from issuing any further offers of employment or permits to HD Mining until the court matter is resolved.Human Resources announced last week that it is reviewing whether the permit applications met federal requirements. The department is responsible for assessing the labour market with respect to temporary foreign workers.
"Canadians must always have the first crack at job opportunities. As we have indicated previously, we are concerned with the process that led to this decision. That is why we are looking into this case to ensure that the appropriate rules were followed. However, we do not comment on matters before the courts," Alyson Queen, spokeswoman for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said in an email.