VANCOUVER - The Canadian Human Rights Commission has rejected a complaint filed by a Chinese miner against the United Steelworkers, over the union's vocal campaign against temporary foreign workers at a coal mine in northeastern British Columbia.
In a letter sent to the commission last month, Huizhi Li, one of 17 workers that had already arrived to work at HD Mining's Murray River mine, cited content from the Steelworkers' website that he said violated human rights laws.
Specifically, Li cited allegations by the Steelworkers and other labour groups that about 200 miners the company has hired from China are working for lower wages and benefits than the Canadian norm.
The union has also filed a safety complaint under the provincial Mines Act, alleging the miners in Murray River don't speak English well enough to understand their rights or to understand and comply with health and safety rules.
These allegations "are likely to create contempt for Chinese persons and in particular Chinese mining workers," Li said in the letter written on HD Mining letterhead.
A spokesperson for the commission said it is unable to comment on decisions to accept or dismiss complaints, but the union said lawyers were informed last week that the complaint did not meet the threshold for a case under the Human Rights Act.
"When we stated the campaign to bring awareness to guest workers across the county, we were very careful to explain to everybody that we thought guest workers were being exploited," said Stephen Hunt, the union's western Canada director.
The whole program is wrong, he said.
"You should first seek Canadians and, secondly, if you can't then open up immigration so that when people come from other countries they come as full Canadians with full protections, which clearly these workers don't," Hunt said.
The International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union have asked the Federal Court for a judicial review of the federal government decision to grant HD Mining permits for 201 temporary foreign workers.
That review is slated to go ahead in April, and last week the company — after much legal wrangling — agreed to turn over to the unions the resumes of hundreds of job applicants turned down for those positions.
HD Mining confirmed that the complaint was not accepted by the commission.
"We do not know what, if any, further steps the worker who filed it intends to take at this time," an official said in an email.
Seventeen workers arrived at the mine last fall, and another 60 miners were expected to arrived in mid-December.
The company has maintained that it made significant efforts to recruit qualified Canadian workers and has met or exceeded all the requirements of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada in obtaining temporary foreign worker permits.
"HD Mining advertised for various underground mining positions paying between $25 and $40 an hour, including mining engineers, industrial electricians and underground coal miners. When combined with benefits, housing and food costs, this would amount to annual compensation in the range of $84,852 to $113,652 per worker," the company has said in statements.
There is a lack of skilled underground coal miners in Canada, HD said, a shortage compounded by the long-wall mining method being employed at the Murray River mine, which is not currently used anywhere in Canada.
"If HD Mining could find qualified Canadian underground miners for this particular project, it would prefer to hire Canadian workers rather than temporary foreign workers. It would be more efficient and less costly to hire Canadian workers, but so far through its recruitment efforts, HD Mining has been unable to find any who are qualified for underground long-wall mining," the company said in December.
A review of the federal temporary foreign worker program is currently underway.
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About 50 meters in, we hit a wall of granite. The tunnel was abandoned after too many Chinese railroad workers died trying to blast through the rock.
Bill Chu was our tour guide. He has spent the last 20 years bringing busloads of mostly Chinese immigrants to native reserves in the Fraser Valley in an effort to educate them about a part of Canadian history not often shared or talked about.
Our group trudges up a small hill to the site where Chinese railroad workers turned farmers were laid to rest. The small plot of land has been fenced off and protected by the Xaxli'p First Nations.
A photo of writer Suzanne Ma as she takes a moment to reflect. While there are no longer any grave stones or signs marking this place as a burial ground, one small piece of evidence -- a rusty tin pail once used to light incense -- lies in the overgrown field.
At a gold mine near Lytton where Chinese labourers built these dykes stone by stone and channeled water through them to look for gold.
The work was exhausting. At this gold mine near Lytton, Chinese men moved stones manually with pushcarts and on shoulder poles. Their diet consisted mainly of rice and dried salmon, but because most could not afford fresh fruits and vegetables, many died from scurvy, an agonizing disease caused by a lack of vitamin C.
Chief Kevin Whitney of the Lillooet First Nations talks to our group in a traditional underground pit house.
Our tour group searches for a Chinese headstone and name plate in Lillooet cemetery.