Friday, 23 November 2012

United Steelworkers challenge BC government to suspend mining operation over safety of temporary foreign workers

The United Steelworkers (USW) District 3 is challenging the BC Minister of Energy and Mines to order a suspension of work at HD Mining International’s Murray River coal mine in northern British Columbia.

A lawyer representing the USW filed the complaint against HD Mining with B.C.'s Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman and Chief Inspector of Mines Al Hoffman Wednesday citing numerous violations of the Health Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines in British Columbia.

The complaint involves the company's use of temporary foreign workers from China and its plans to teach those workers only 100 words of English prior to commencing work.

The USW complaint points to sections of the B.C. Mines Code, which requires that in order to understand and comply with the occupational health and safety rules and standards, all workers in mines must have appropriate facility in the English language.

"Given the dangers posed by a continuous production underground coal mine, it is critical that all workers have a clear understanding of workplace safety and rules at all times. Inserting a foreign national without fluency in English into such a maze of overlapping and precise safety requirements is a recipe for disaster," says Steve Hunt, United Steelworkers Director for Western Canada (District 3).

The USW complaint follows court action recently initiated by The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611. Those two unions are seeking a federal judicial review of approximately 200 temporary foreign worker permits granted to HD Mining for its mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

Lawyers for the company and the federal Immigration and Human Resources departments sought to have the application dismissed. But yesterday, the Federal Court ruled it would hear the challenge brought by the two unions. Judge Douglas Campbell said in his decision there is a public interest in the case.

"I note that presently there is almost no knowledge of the contents of the (labour market opinions) in question, nor is there a method in the present circumstances by which their production can be ordered without granting the applicants standing in these proceedings," Campbell wrote.

At the provincial level, the BC Code mandates individual workers understand and fully comply with the following documents and procedures:
  • The operation of a joint health and safety committee
  • Material safety data sheets
  • Extensive confined spaces procedures
  • Special requirements and training of a mine rescue team member
  • The written lockout procedure and training
  • Log books for suspended work platforms
  • Emergency and rescue plans
  • All provisions of the Mines Act, Regulations and the Code, in relation to the operation of mobile equipment
  • Log books for mobile equipment
  • Operating procedures for the introduction of water into rock passes
Hunt says these requirements make clear how essential it is to the safety of each employee that everyone on a mine site has an adequate grasp of the English language.

"Given the importance of competency to the safe operation of a mine, the idea of teaching employees only 100 words of English is extremely disturbing, and it is clearly contrary to the purposes of the Mine Code," Hunt says.

"This rudimentary knowledge of English will not even come close to satisfying the requirements of the Code."

The union is asking the provincial government invoke its powers to order a suspension of work at HD Mining Murry River operation. It is also asking the ministry utilize its powers under the Mines Act to conduct an investigation into the alleged violations.

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