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DAILY NEWS Oct 24, 2012 10:21 PM - 4 comments

Editorial: Chinese workers in BC's coal fields - think globally, exploit locally

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By: John Cumming

Canadians are widely known as some of the best miners in the world, and the Chinese as some of the worst. Just how bad? Since the turn of the millennium, more than 50,000 miners have been killed in China’s coal mines — easily the highest death count in global mining.

And so the emerging plan to bring Chinese miners to work in B.C.’s coal fields doesn’t quite pass the smell test.

It wasn’t that long ago that B.C.’s deeply unpopular Liberal Premier Christy Clark was off in China talking up the $1.4 billion in Chinese investments due to be made in B.C.’s coal sector, with four new mines set to be developed in the province. What she failed to mention is that these Chinese investors are planning to bring up to 2,000 low-paid Chinese miners to carry out most of the work.

Let’s be clear: this would be well-heeled Chinese investors putting up the money and serving as lead managers, migrant Chinese workers flown in to do the heavy lifting, with the coal product shipped to China and corporate profits staying in Chinese hands. It’s hard to see how Canadians could benefit any less from the exploitation of mineral resources under their feet.

Some 200 Chinese are due to arrive in B.C. in the coming weeks to take a 100,000-tonne bulk sample at HD Mining International’s Murray River longwall underground coal mine project, part of the larger Tumbler Ridge project in eastern B.C. It’s located halfway up the province, near the border with Alberta and a day’s drive from the bright lights of booming Edmonton.

The first phase of mine development would cost around $300 million, with the mine slated to produce at a commercial rate of around 6 million tonnes of coal a year starting in 2015, at the beginning of a 30-year mine life. The mine would need about 600 workers, of which around 450 would be Chinese nationals leaving their families at home and working on two-year renewable visas.

HD Mining is majority owned by two Chinese companies: operator Huiyong Holdings (BC) Ltd. (55%) and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. (40%). Huiyong’s parent company in China operates at least nine mines there. Chinese national Penggui Yan serves as HD chairman and, in an unusual twist, two of HD’s top Canadian managers were until recently assistant deputy ministers in the B.C. government’s resource ministries.

The Chinese miners will be working under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), run by the federal government’s Human Resources and Skills Development department. If you believe working at a good-sized mine operating year-round with a projected 30-year mine life is “temporary” work, you’d probably believe a lot of things that aren’t so.

Under the current TFWP program, employers are required to have made an effort to find suitable Canadian employees before seeking out any foreign workers, by offering wages in-line with the industry and region, and by carrying out a minimum career advertising campaign (Anecdotally, our own careers salesperson, who runs the country’s premiere mining jobs board, had never heard of HD Mining or their mine’s requirement for personnel.)

HD Mining had reportedly received 300 Canadian resumes for the mining jobs at hand, and interviewed some 100 candidates. Remarkably, not a single Canadian was hired. HD’s excuse is that Canadians are inexperienced in longwall mining methods, even though the idea of bringing Chinese coal miners to B.C. was first floated in 2007 — easily enough time to teach Canadian workers any mining method imaginable.

HD Mining has been offering in the neighbourhood of $52,000 a year for a job working as an underground miner at Murray River, which strikes us as tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable blue collar jobs in the region, especially given the immense pull of the nearby oilsands megaprojects. (Average miner wages in B.C. are around $34 per hour, or roughly $70,000 per year.) The TFWP dictates that employers can offer 15% under the region’s going rate.

Equally concerning, reporters from B.C.’s Tyee posed as Chinese miners looking for work at HD Mining, and found that at least three recruiting firms in China were charging a prospective miner a $12,500 recruitment fee per job (an astronomical fee for a Chinese worker, amounting to a form of indentured labour), and were advertising wages that were $3 to $5 less per hour than the rates advertised in Canada in English.

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Reader Comments

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Roderic Patton

I'll let this article do my talking for me.
Source: The Canadian Press ON July 13, 2012

The Supreme Court says it will not hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that says a Chinese state-owned corporation should face charges in the deaths of two oilsands workers in Alberta.

Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Co. was seeking to challenge an Alberta Court of Appeal judgment that ordered the company to stand trial on 53 health and safety charges. Two temporary workers from China died in 2007 near Fort McMurray when a storage tank collapsed at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon project.

Sinopec Shanghai, which brought the workers to Alberta, argued it has no official presence in Canada and therefore could not be charged.

Alberta Justice says Sinopec and two other companies, Canadian Natural Resources and SSEC Canada—a Sinopec subsidiary with just one employee—are to stand trial on the charges on Oct. 1 in St. Albert provincial court.

As is customary, the Supreme Court of Canada gave no reasons for its decision.

Moral: You roll the dice and you take your chances!!

Posted October 25, 2012 05:28 PM

Greg Hodges

A surprisingly socialist/liberal commentary from the normally capitalist/conservative Northern Miner - and all the more meaningful because of that! This mining plan seems fit for the colonial era, when mines were operated by foreign powers using imported labour and the locals were left out or driven out. Canadians (and the people in every other country) need to retain value from their non-renewable resources through wages and investment into the communities, before the resources are stripped and gone.

What mining companies have done to other countries (and are learning not to do) is being done to Canada. Ironic, and definitely wrong.

Posted October 25, 2012 10:26 AM

William Cullen

Companies tip toe about in the north to insure that locals are hired. They train and put the bulk of wages back in and create a vibrant comunity.
I am shocked to here of this theft.let the Chineese stay home till they learn the culture of leaving the wages in the country of origin when resorces are involved.
Mechanic from Ontario.

Posted October 25, 2012 09:15 AM

Peter Drobeck

As an American citizen, I guess I don't have much to stand on to comment on Canada's immigration and work policies, but as a loyal and fond neighbor of Canada, I can't help react to the NM's article on HD Mining bringing in low-wage Chinese miners to undercut the local labor force. As an American I can't get a visa to work in Canada easily, and I'm not undercutting the local wage scale! So why the Chinese? If they try that in our country I'll be at the airport with a large demonstration to see that they return on the next flight home. It's egregious enough to see that so many Canadian and American jobs have been outsourced to China in the past 20 years, but to have them come to our own shores and undercut our own skilled workers is unthinkable. I hope Canada will put a stop to this immediately. Give in on this one, and next will be the rest of the mining industry, then the tar sands, and then the auto industry...then where we will be?

Posted October 25, 2012 12:02 AM

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