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Judge rebuffs feds, urges deal with unions on temp worker dispute

What was supposed to be a conference to determine if two British Columbia unions have standing to seek an injunction against a mining company turned into a request by a judge to have the two sides see if they can come to an agreement to avoid further court proceedings on Friday.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and Construction & Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 have filed for the injunction while government investigations into the issue are conducted and want records released for their own investigations.

But the federal government and the HD Mining do not want to release the records, involving the use of temporary foreign workers at a mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Federal Justice Douglas Campbell said he was giving the sides until Tuesday to see if they can find an arrangement that would satisfy all parties, or continue with legal proceedings.

An injunction would effectively stop the project.

Part of the process to get a permit for temporary workers involves a labour market opinion (LMO) showing the company made sufficient efforts to find Canadians to do the job first, something unions alleged wasn’t done.

Now, they want to have full access to the LMOs to see if the company cut corners in order to purposely disqualify Canadians from the jobs so it could use miners from China at a cheaper cost.

Lawyers representing the government and mining firm don’t want to release the records for privacy concerns and said the unions were on a “fishing expedition.”

“There’s fish in the lake,” said Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell in response to the accusation.

A deal between the parties could see LMOs released on a confidential basis, but lawyers for the unions said they want the process to be public.

“The public should be able to see how these decisions get made,” said Charles Gordon, counsel for the two unions.

Labour groups have been questioning why the federal government is putting legal resources into preventing the release of the information, despite its own admissions there are concerns with how the companies were granted permits for the foreign workers.

“The minister has already agreed there’s a problem,” said B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair outside court yesterday.

“We don’t know what the government’s hiding and why they’re spending all this time trying to hide these LMOs from the public.”

Earlier this month Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley said litigation could slow the government’s own investigation into the case.

Vancouver-based journalist Jeremy Nuttall spent three years reporting in Beijing before returning to B.C. this year. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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