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Mining company questions human resource minister's statements in foreign worker case

Canada's Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley may be cross examined as part of a court case in which two British Columbia unions are trying to get an injunction that would stop a mining project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

A case management conference for the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 versus HD Mining and two Canadian government ministries got underway last week.

On Tuesday all sides wrapped up their arguments to determine if the two unions have legal standing to ask for an injunction, which they launched on the allegation the company doctored job advertisements to exclude Canadians so it could hire foreign workers for cheaper.

But lawyers for the union said they are also concerned about a letter written by HD Mining's chairman to the minister asking her to clarify statements she made almost two weeks ago regarding Labour Market Opinions used to apply for the foreign worker permits.

The letter asked Finley about comments she made to the media about concerns over HD Mining's hiring practices, particularly requests applicants speak Mandarin.

"In particular, we are not satisfied that sufficient efforts were made to recruit or train Canadians interested in these jobs," said Finley in a statement.

"Specifically, the requirement that applicants have skills in a foreign language does not appear to be linked to a genuine job requirement."

The company intends to bring up to 300 miners from China to work at their Murray River coal mine project on the basis it couldn't find Canadians with underground mining experience to fill the jobs.

The unions have been relying on Finley's comments heavily for their case against the company, but HD Mining said it thinks the comments are not clear.

"While we have been concerned about your statement for some time, the continued reference to (Finley's) statement in court has caused us further and increasing concern," wrote HD Mining Chairman Yan Penggui in his letter to Finley.

The letter goes on to ask Finley if she personally reviewed records related to the case before making her statement or if she was aware of any irregularities in the processing of the applications.

"As I am sure you are aware, we have very considerable business, financial and other interests at stake in these matters," wrote the chairman near the end of the letter.

Counsel for the two unions Charles Gordon said he is concerned about the motives behind the communique.

"I thought that was quite strange that they seem to be trying to get Diane Finley to back off the statement she made last week where she clearly indicated that there were problems with how the LMOs were issued in this case," said Gordon outside of court.

"Certainly, the way I read that letter, they're asking her to back away from that."

Gordon said if Finley issues another statement different from her initial comments he will seriously consider asking her to make a court appearance for cross examination.

Meanwhile, Tuesday the company argued it did in fact make efforts to find Canadians and pointed to more advertisements placed in a variety of publications.

In the past, company spokeswoman Jody Shimkus has told media 300 Canadians applied for the positions, but none were hired.

The unions want all the records related to the applications for the temporary foreign workers released and said they need the information as part of their case.

But the company and lawyers representing Canada's ministries for Human Resources and Skills Development and Citizenship and Immigration said they will not release the information.

Labour groups have been questioning why the federal government is fighting in court to conceal documents related to a case it has admitted seems suspect.

Two weeks ago, Finley said litigation would slow down a government review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The judge in the case will announce a decision on Thursday regarding the unions’ standing in the case, determining if they have the power to request an injunction. 

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

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