03/01/2013 08:37 EST | Updated 05/01/2013 05:12 EDT

HD Mining, BC Miner Unions' Foreign Workers Review Moves Ahead

HD Mining

VANCOUVER - Two B.C. unions will get their wish to look behind the curtain of how the federal government decides if temporary foreign workers can come to Canada.

On Friday, the Federal Court granted the unions the right to pursue a judicial review of the process used to grant temporary foreign worker permits to 201 Chinese miners.

HD Mining applied for the permits as part of its plan to develop an underground coal mine in northern British Columbia, successfully arguing there were no Canadians qualified to do the work using the specialized technique the mining company planned.

Brian Cochrane, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, said he was pleased with the decision and said he was looking forward to the court hearing in April.

"It's been a long fight to get here."

Cochrane said getting the court leave will give the unions more access to documents both from HD Mining and the federal government.

He said they want to know how the mining firm convinced the federal government it needed the temporary miners.

But Cochrane said their fight goes beyond HD Mining and said he hopes the review will reveal the federal government's role and policies around allowing temporary foreign workers into Canada.

Lee Loftus, of the B.C. Building Trades Council, said he's convinced the judicial review will reveal that isn't the case.

Loftus said he expects to find that the proper process wasn't being followed by HD Mining.

"I think we're going to find there are available workers that can do this work and we also think we're going to find that long-wall mining wasn't really determined up front to start with, it was only used as a matter to secure the permits to bring in foreign workers rather than hire local workers."

The case is expected to be heard in mid-April.

The chairman of HD Mining, Penggui Yan, said the company is also happy for the case to move forward after much back-and-forth in the courts.

"We are confident that government officials did nothing wrong in issuing these authorizations, and we believe the federal court will ultimately reject the unions’ claims."

HD Mining said in a statement it put forward an open letter to the unions three weeks ago proposing to bring an end to the litigation and build a constructive relationship.

“HD Mining remains willing to pursue that proposal, even while we continue to fight this litigation with full vigour,” said Yan.

But Cochrane said there's been no talks between the unions and the company.

"That request went out to the media, more than a request to us directly," he said of the media statement put out Feb. 7 by HD Mining.