VICTORIA (Canadian OH&S News)
Allegations that recruitment agencies are charging exorbitant fees to temporary foreign workers (TFWs) for the opportunity to work in British Columbia have prompted investigations from the provincial and federal governments.
In an Oct. 22 letter to Pat Bell, minister of jobs, tourism and innovation, the president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour, Jim Sinclair, cited recent allegations that recruiting companies in China, allegedly acting on behalf of B.C. mining companies, were charging recruiting fees as high as $12,500 per person.
The letter also alleged that training and a “certificate of qualification” was being offered for sale for $160.
Bell confirmed that an employment standards investigation was underway, but declined to give any specifics.
“What I can tell you is the investigation was started as a result of accusations that were made regarding payments to recruitment agencies in order to acquire employment in British Columbia,” he said. “That is completely against our labour laws in British Columbia and so the investigation is not specific to a company, it’s specific to the accusation that has been made.”
The labour federation has urged the ministry to work with its federal counterparts to immediately suspend any TFW permits issued for the mine in question, the Murray River Coal Mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., which is being developed by HD Mining International Ltd. and will be using TFWs from the company and its corporate entities.
No government support for permit suspension
While HD Mining could not be reached for comment by press time, Bell said he does not support the request for the suspension of permits.
“These are unproven allegations. The law in Canada still says you are innocent until proven guilty,” he stressed. “There really has not yet been any substantial information that has been provided that indicates these allegations are accurate.”
Bell said that HD Mining has submitted a request to the federal government for about 200 TFWs, who will work underground to extract a 100,000-tonne bulk coal sample during a six-to-eight month exploratory project. In addition, there just under 300 Canadian workers employed above ground at the site.
“Once the company understands whether this type of coal can be used for their purpose, then they would make a final decision on whether it goes into full production and 2015 is the estimated target for that,” Bell said.
The labour federation is also calling for the appointment of an independent investigator to determine if the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been used properly, if all necessary conditions are in place for safe development in the mine and if any laws have been violated.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada said they are looking into the matter.
“The consequences of failing to address this matter swiftly are significant and leave British Columbia and prospective Chinese miners open to further abuse,” Sinclair wrote in the letter.
“We have a duty to the unemployed Canadians who are looking for work and willing to train, and we have a duty to ensure that when foreign workers come to Canada, they do so with their rights protected, not trampled on.”