About 200 Chinese nationals will be arriving in B.C. in the coming weeks to work at the Murray River project southwest of Tumbler Ridge.
The companies backing the mines say there aren't enough Canadian workers with the skills and experience needed to work underground.
"While we are very good at large, open pit mines, we are not very good at underground coal mines," said Jobs Minister Pat Bell. "It is a very dangerous job, and it is not one that it is easy to recruit people for."
United Steelworkers Union western director Stephen Hunt says that's because the government failed to provide proper training.
"The crisis that's been created is from the lack of training, and the lack of government incentives or insight into what's happening," Hunt said.
"As people retire, you have to replace them. Had we been on the ball in British Columbia and Canada, we would have offered the same types of training programs ... We are the mining experts in Canada, global experts. And to suggest that we have to rely on Chinese coal companies is an insult."
Several hundred more Chinese nationals could come to the region in the coming years as more mines are developed.
Hunt is concerned these short-term workers will be treated as a cheap source of labour, and won't contribute much to the local economy.
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