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'Very Concerned' Feds Investigate Temp Miner Hires in BC

Not clear how much probe will focus on illegal attempts to charge hefty fees to Chinese applicants.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 31 Oct 2012 | TheTyee.ca

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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Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development: Investigation launched.

The federal government is launching its own investigation into foreign worker permits granted to mining companies in British Columbia, but it remains unclear how much of that investigation will focus on allegations workers are being charged hefty fees for the jobs.

A spokesperson for the federal minister of human resources said payment of fees by workers to job recruitment companies is covered by provincial laws and would only say researching those allegations will be "a component" of a larger investigation. The federal investigation comes more than a week after the provincial ministry responsible for labour in B.C. launched its own probe into how the miners were being hired.

Alyson Queen of the Ministry of Human Resources stressed the investigation will take a look at whether or not Canadian workers were given a fair chance to apply for the work.

"With regards to this particular case we are very concerned and we are investigating to ensure that the appropriate rules were followed," Queen told The Tyee.

"We want to ensure that the employer did indeed exhaust all efforts to find Canadians to do the work required, which is a key component of receiving positive labour market opinion . . . which then enables employers to then proceed with CIC in getting work permits and having temporary foreign workers arrive."

'We are very vigilant'

But Queen said because of the investigation she could not go into more detail about the job-fee allegations or if the Chinese miners themselves would be questioned upon arrival in Canada.

"Rest assured that when we have concerns that are brought to light whether it's about conditions of employment once workers arrive in Canada or about the recruitment of workers either here or abroad . . . we are very vigilant," said Queen.

The B.C. Federation of Labour said it welcomed the federal government's investigation, but president Jim Sinclair added he would like see an emphasis on the allegations of recruitment fees.

"It is imperative that the investigation of recruiting fees also be thoroughly investigated," said Sinclair.

"Since first raising the issue, we have heard of numerous examples of workers being charged to participate in the Temporary Foreign Worker program and that's against the law in B.C."

In a press release the BCFL said according to the Canadian Labour Congress there are 20,000 miners in Canada looking for work.

"This is less about a shortage of labour -- it's more about a shortage of wages," wrote Sinclair.

"If these companies had a fair hiring process and paid competitive wages, there are thousands of qualified workers in Canada who would consider taking the job."

Ads said 'Mandarin preferred'

Earlier this month the United Steelworkers Union alleged Canadian workers were being intentionally shut out of jobs after it found advertisements for positions in B.C. mines indicating those who spoke Mandarin were preferred.

In order to qualify to bring foreign workers to Canada the applicant must prove there is a labour shortage or that no Canadians are qualified.

A spokesperson for one of the mining companies that placed the advertisements geared toward Mandarin speakers said they were a mistake, but another company placed ads with the same preference as recently as last week, reported one Vancouver newspaper.

Both Canadian Dehua International Mines Group and HD Mining International -- the two companies known to be bringing in Chinese miners -- have said they do not use such recruitment agencies.

Firm wanted $12,500 for temp placement

The allegations of using recruitments came after the Tyee answered advertisements offering Chinese miners employment in Canada that were placed on a Chinese version of Craigslist called Bai Xing and based in China.

Recruiters said for a fee of $12,500 CAD workers would be able to secure employment in Canadian mines.

Charging workers for information about employment or to secure them employment is illegal in B.C.

Labour groups have been asking for the permits for the Chinese miners -- brought in under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program -- to be suspended until investigations by the federal and provincial governments are complete.

Tags: Politics, Labour + Industry  [Tyee]

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