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HD Mining Offers Unions a Deal in Open Letter

Company's plea to end dispute over foreign workers called 'nonsense' by labour spokesman.

Jeremy Nuttall 8 Feb 2013TheTyee.ca

Vancouver-based journalist Jeremy J. Nuttall spent three years in Beijing before returning to B.C. last year. Read his previous Tyee articles here, or follow him on Twitter @jeremyjnuttall.

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'The dispute has not created a single job and it is causing considerable strain on our proposed Murray River Project,' reads letter signed by HD Mining chair.

A day after the mayor of Tumbler Ridge made a public plea for HD Mining and two unions to find a solution to a dispute regarding miners brought from China to B.C., the company has written an open letter to the unions offering a deal to end the dispute.

The case has been an open pit of controversy since it was discovered by the United Steelworkers union the company had listed Mandarin as a language requirement in job advertisements.

Labour groups contested that was done to eliminate Canadian candidates so the company could be granted Labour Market Opinions supporting their case for foreign miners for smaller wages.

In order to be given permits for foreign workers, the LMOs need to show the company made significant efforts to find Canadians to do the work without success.

Last autumn, the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 and Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 launched a court action seeking a judicial review of the permits and recently won a decision to have the resumes of 300 Canadians who applied and were rejected turned over to them.

The company then sent home 16 miners already at the site.

Intent to build bridges

On Tuesday, Tumbler Ridge Mayor Darwin Wren –- whose support of the company has been called inappropriate by one union spokesperson -- issued a plea for the two sides to cooperate.

In a letter dated Feb. 7, HD Mining said it wants to build a bridge with the unions.

"The dispute has not created a single job and it is causing considerable strain on our proposed Murray River Project," reads the letter signed by company chair Yan Penggui.

"On the strength of government approvals, we have spent millions of dollars and hired or contracted many Canadians for the above ground work."

The letter suggests the unions and company sit down to discuss cooperation and lays out four conditions –- the first being the legal action seeking a review of the permits be stopped.

It also wants to complete its two-year bulk sampling work using the 201 workers it currently has permission to bring to the mine.

The company then invites the union to participate in the implementation of a training course it approached Northern Lights College about creating last June.

It also requests the unions recognize the company's position that the mining technique it intends to use is "highly specialized."

HD Mining then offers to review and help revise the company's training and transition plan, which at this point may not see the mine fully staffed by Canadians for 14 years.

Finally, the company said it would commit to consulting with unions before submitting further applications for TFW permits in the future.

'We have nothing to reply to': unions

Spokesman for the unions Tom Sigurdson called the plea "nonsense."

"It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious," said Sigurdson.

"They've missed the point completely."

He said the unions began their fight against the company on the basis that Canadian resources should be used to create jobs for Canadians, adding the federal government hasn't properly addressed that concern.

He also said the unions don't consider the letter to be in good faith because it was sent to the media, not them.

"We have nothing to reply to," he said.  [Tyee]

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