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BC's Look into Mining Recruitment Fees Falls Short: Union

Gov't says it found 'no evidence' companies were charging workers money.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 14 Feb 2013 | TheTyee.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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Jobs Minister Pat Bell. Bell's deputy minister said the ministry completed its investigation into allegations in November and found no evidence B.C.-based companies were charging fees.

The United Steelworkers union is accusing the provincial government of misleading the public about investigating allegations Chinese miners are paying money to work in Canada.

B.C. announced it would investigate the case after The Tyee discovered in October recruiters in China are offering mining positions in B.C. for a $12,500 fee, which is illegal under provincial law.

The union said it received a letter in response to its inquiry about how the investigation was going and isn't satisfied it was being properly conducted.

In the letter, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Jobs and Skills Training Dave Byng said it completed its investigation into the allegations in November 2012 and found no evidence B.C.-based companies were charging fees.

"If any workers come forward alleging they were charged fees while in the province, the Employment Standards Branch will investigate these complaints," wrote Byng.

The letter stressed HD Mining -- a company embroiled in a bitter dispute with the USW since it came to light the China-backed company would bring Chinese workers to its Murray River coal mine -- was found not to have charged their workers recruitment fees.

HD Mining has stressed many times it doesn't use workers found through recruiters.

But Byng said the province can't do anything if workers paid fees to come working in Canada anyway.

"The province has no jurisdiction over action if these take place overseas," he wrote.

The letter also referred to the B.C. Jobs Plan at length and insisted the province doesn't have the manpower to operate eight new mines in the works as well as the expansion of nine existing ones.

'No evidence' of fees: ministry

USW District Three Director Stephen Hunt said he isn't happy with the province's efforts.

"We don't think there was any investigation," said Hunt. "If there was, it certainly wasn't thorough."

Hunt said the suggestion temporary foreign workers call authorities to report if they paid such fees won't work because foreign workers are afraid of being sent home by their employers.

He also accused the ministry of trying to abdicate its responsibility to protect workers in the province.

"I think they simply said, 'Oh it happened in China, so let's point a finger over the ocean' you know?"

The Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training responded to the allegations by email reiterating its letter to the USW.

"The government of B.C. has no jurisdiction over fees that may have been charged in China by Chinese-based recruiters," said the part of the ministry's email.

"There was no evidence in this case of employees being charged fees in B.C. or by B.C.-based recruiters."

Mine controversy continues

In the original report by The Tyee the company found to be charging the miners, Canada CIBS Investment and Trade Group, said on its Chinese website it was a Vancouver-based company.

The concern over Chinese miners coming to B.C. ballooned after the United Steelworkers found advertisements listing Mandarin as an asset in applying for the Murray River mine near Tumbler Ridge.

Labour groups allege the Mandarin requirement was meant to exclude Canadians so Chinese workers could be brought in for lower wages.

The case snowballed and eventually ended up in federal court where the company was forced to release documents related to permits granted for 201 workers it planned to bring to the project from China.

Such permits require proof the company tried unsuccessfully to find Canadians for the positions and the released documents included the resumes of 300 Canadians who applied for the jobs but were not hired.

Last week after months of supporting the company, B.C. Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Pat Bell backtracked on the issue and admitted it appears the permits were not granted properly.

Meanwhile, HD Mining issued a plea to two B.C. unions who have filed for a judicial review of the case to engage in dialogue if they stopped their legal action.

But the company also threatened to sue the union in a letter sent two weeks ago, according to the USW.  [Tyee]

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