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Chinese Guest Worker Program Rebuked by Government, but China’s Influence on Canadian Coal is Inevitable

Canadian coal companies are avoiding paying prevailing wages with a move similar to the H-2B visa abuse we have witnessed from tech companies in the U.S. In both countries visas are granted to companies which allege to be unable to find qualified native workers and in both scenarios worker representatives dispute the worker shotage.

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 began to fight back against Canadian Coal company HD Mining whose Murray River coal mine recently brought in 200 Chinese workers via the Temporary Foreign Worker Program despite over 300 applications it received from workers in the region. The Chinese workers are being paid $10 below prevailing wage with no benefits.

On Thursday, though, the Canadian government announced it would review the guest worker program in a small victory for IUOE.

The British Columbia based HD mining is a partnership between China-based Huiyong Holding Group, which owns a 55-per-cent stake in the mine, and Canadian Dehua International Mines Group Inc. As this weekend’s Globe and Mail points out, however, China’s stake in the Canadian coal industry is really driving the workforce issues:

The provincial government has courted coal investment. On a trade mission to China last November, Premier Christy Clark heralded $1.36-billion worth of investment in coal projects that would create more than 6,700 jobs.

The controversy over who will get those jobs has become a headache for provincial and federal governments. After weeks of public outcry and a court action filed by two B.C. labour unions, Ottawa – which is in charge of the temporary foreign worker program – has said it is not satisfied that the company followed proper procedures, which include trying to find employees locally.

The B.C. government, meanwhile, has said it will investigate allegations that recruitment agencies in China told would-be workers they would have to pay fees to land Canadian mining jobs, which is in contravention of B.C.’s Employment Standards Act.

Amid the furor, analysts are watching as China – with proven coal reserves second only in size to those of the United States – shifts from seller to buyer, shaking up global trade.

China’s debut as a buyer could be driven by factors including transportation bottlenecks and dwindling coking coal reserves, Kevin Jianjun Tu, a senior associate at the Carnegie Energy and Climate Program, wrote in a February report.

Bulking up on imports might also allow China to close small, inefficient and sometimes dangerous domestic operations, he said.

Official statistics put the number of Chinese coal miners killed in mining accidents at more than 250,000 since 1949. Small mines run by township and village enterprises accounted for one-third of production over the past decade, but three-quarters of fatalities, Mr. Tu wrote. Local officials have balked at central-government attempts to shutter the operations.


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