Publicity Could Hurt Miner Recruitment Fees Probe: Bell

BC's jobs minister worries media coverage may cause sources to clam up.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 26 Oct 2012 |

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

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Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training Pat Bell: Some critics of Chinese backed mines hiring Chinese temp workers are 'bordering on inappropriate racial remarks.'

British Columbia’s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills and Training says the investigation into how Chinese coal miners are hired could be hampered by the publicity and politics surrounding the issue.

Last week a Tyee article revealed a recruitment company claiming to be based in B.C. was offering Chinese coal miners a chance to work in Canada in exchange for $12,500 in fees.

Pat Bell said the attention the media has given the recruiter story as well as other details about the project could be a problem for investigators.

"It's already going to be challenging enough to conduct the investigation with the amount of public dialogue that has taken place around this," Bell told The Tyee Thursday.

"I'm sure you can appreciate that once it's commonly known that there is an investigation taking place and where it's directed that people are less forthcoming in terms of the information they provide."

The investigation is being conducted by the ministry's labour division and Bell said normally the federal government also becomes involved in such cases.

Two companies bringing miners to B.C. from China have said they do not use such an agency and all their Chinese staff already work for them in China.

'A very serious allegation': Bell

There is no evidence linking the recruitment company with the mining firms, Canadian Dehua International Mines Group and HD Mining International.

Bell said the charges made in The Tyee's piece have yet to be proven.

"I take it seriously, but I also hope that when the allegation was made it was done with substance because it is a very serious allegation," said Bell.

Labour groups in the province became outraged when they discovered more than 200 coal miners from China were being brought over to work in mine exploration projects, the uproar was fanned by the reports that at least some Chinese candidates for the work were being told they must pay fees for the opportunity.

The Tyee learned of the fees after posing as a Chinese miner and answering ads posted by a company called Canada CIBS Investment and Trade Inc. on a mainland China website similar to Craigslist.

During a conversation on QQ, a Chinese version of MSN messenger, an agent said a $4,700 CAD fee up front was required followed by an additional $7,900 CAD to be paid over 20 months after arrival in Canada.

After the online interview, The Tyee called the company's administrative office in Chengdu and was put in touch with a second recruiter who confirmed the fees.

Jobs at mines for Canadians will top 600: Bell

Bell said media reports that 2,000 workers would be coming are incorrect and that by 2015 more than 600 employees at the mine will be Canadians.

Meanwhile the federal government said it is aware of the situation.

"We are concerned about this particular case and are investigating to ensure that the appropriate rules were followed," emailed Alyson Queen from the Ministry of Human Resources and Skills Development.

"Our Government is committed to ensuring that Canadians always have first crack at the jobs available in Canada."

Labour groups have also challenged the federal and provincial governments over if Canadians were in fact given "first crack" at the positions available.

The United Steelworkers' Union recently posted advertisements it found that were searching for miners for a project near Hudson's Hope that noted Mandarin speaking applicants were preferred.

The union has alleged the stipulation was put in on purpose to eliminate Canadian applicants, claim there aren’t enough qualified locals and bring in the Chinese through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program for smaller wages.

But Bell insists the Chinese miners are being brought in for their expertise. Skilled coal miners elsewhere in Canada would be unlikely to move to B.C. for less than a year to work on exploration projects such as these, Bell said. And training miners in the province for exploratory projects is not the best route to take.

"Would you go two and a half kilometres underground in a tunnel full of coal bed methane gas with someone who has a stick of dynamite in one hand and a match in the other and three weeks of training?" he asked.

Importing workers 'logical' in this case: Bell

Bell wondered why the criticism seems to only be directed on Chinese Temporary Foreign Workers when there are American and Australian foreign workers also being used in the province.

He said such criticism "is bordering on racial remarks and is completely inappropriate."

But he said he doesn't consider Chinese firms to be bringing over Chinese miners an act of discrimination.

"I think that's a very logical thing that you would do if you cannot source workers in the country in which you're operating," said Bell, who said he believes the two mining companies made appropriate efforts to hire Canadians, and when that didn't work out they understandably looked within China for workers.

"Of course you'd look at your own country first before you'd look at another country."  [Tyee]

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