A federal department approved a bulk application for temporary foreign employees at a B.C. coal mine despite concerns about workers' language skills and how the company would gradually shift to hiring Canadians, according to newly released documents.
"Lack of requirement for English for [foreign workers] in underground mining occupations raises some concerns regarding the employer's ability to attract/train and transition to Canadian workers," says one document, which was made public Friday as part of a court case concerning Chinese workers at a B.C. coal project.
"The employer has stated that English-language training will be provided, that interpreters and English-speaking foremen will facilitate on-the-job training and transfer of skills to Canada. Still it is reasonable to question how successful the employer will be in attracting, training or retaining Canadians, while the language of mine operation is predominantly Mandarin," the document states.
The person who prepared the document – entitled Bulk Request Assessment and Recommendation and issued by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada – noted that they were "unaware of any [temporary foreign worker program] policy that would allow for a refusal based on workplace language."
The recommendation was released as part of a court
case in which two B.C. labour unions are seeking a judicial review of the process that
gave Vancouver-based HD Mining permission to hire 201 foreign workers for its Murray River coal project near Tumbler Ridge.
Other documents released on Friday include an application from HD Mining for a labour market opinions in which it cites Mandarin as a language requirement for the positions and states that "Chinese workers will speak Chinese in a team environment and will receive English language training."
HD Mining issued a statement on Friday that said the company included Mandarin on the temporary foreign worker application simply to indicate the language spoken by the foreign workers it had already recruited.
"When we were unable to recruit any qualified Canadians, we applied for and received permission from [Human Resources and Skills Development Canada] to hire temporary foreign workers," the statement said.
"The application required [HD Mining] to identify the language spoken by the foreign workers. The qualified foreign workers we recruited are Mandarin speaking. Mandarin is the language that these workers speak, but was not a requirement in our recruitment efforts."
Under Canada's temporary foreign worker program, employers have to show what efforts they have made to hire locally – before they can hire foreign workers.
HD Mining has said it was unable to find Canadians or permanent residents to do the jobs and that it complied with all aspects of the temporary foreign worker program.
The unions applied to see documents relating to HD Mining's approved foreign workers.
The company, as well as the federal government, have objected to the scope of the unions' request and the two sides spent five days in closed hearings on the issue.
On Friday, Justice Douglas Campbell ordered that completed application forms, along with supporting documents, be released.
Documents that had been the subject of the previous in-camera hearings were released Friday.
The court case resumes next week, when the unions are expected to seek an injunction that would prevent more foreign workers from coming to the project until the process is reviewed.
Seventeen workers have already arrived and another 60 are scheduled to arrive some time in December.