February 27, 2013
Documents put long wall mining claim under scrutiny
HD Mining International was not planning to use a long wall mining method at a proposed mine in northeastern B.C., despite company claims that it must hire temporary foreign workers (TFWs) with that specific experience, state B.C. government documents.
“We have a Notice of Work Application filed by HD Mining with the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations to take a bulk coal sample, at the Murray River project,” said lawyer Charles Gordon, who is representing two construction unions in a Federal Court legal challenge to stop HD Mining from hiring Chinese TFWs at the Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge.
“In the application, HD Mining details how they intend to do the work using room and pillar mining. You would think that if they wanted to change the way they are going to get the bulk sample that they would let the ministry know.”
The Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union (CSWU) and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) filed an application on Feb. 18 to introduce new evidence from the B.C. government.
The application by HD Mining to the B.C. Ministry of Natural Resource Operations shows that the long wall mining method would not be used.
“The HD Mining International Ltd.’s Murray River 100,000 tonne bulk coal sample collection project designed by Norwest plans to utilize proven underground coal mining methods (room and pillar),” said HD Mining assistant general manager Albert Xiao in a letter dated June 30, 2011.
According to Xiao, the bulk coal sample project would occur in two phases.
The first phase is construction of the necessary temporary/portable surface facilities and the excavation and equipping of one shaft and one decline.
The second phase is the mining of the coal.
The surface facilities for bulk coal sample collection would be temporary in nature and of the design capacity required for the bulk sample project.
These construction details are significant because HD Mining claims TFWs with experience in long wall mining methods are required to complete the bulk sample phase of the project.
“The Murray River project involves a very deep coal seam, that is only safely accessible using a specialized type of underground mining known as long wall mining,” said a statement of facts submitted by HD Mining to the Federal Court of Canada on Feb 15.
“Long wall mining is not practiced anywhere in Canada at this time and has not been practiced in Canada for 15 years.”
The HD Mining court statement said long wall mining involves deep coal seams that are accessed not through the standard room and pillar approach, but rather by allowing a highly specialized, controlled collapse of the mine as work progresses.
“To suggest that a person is qualified for underground long wall mining merely because they have worked underground in other types of mines reflects a fundamental lack of understanding of long wall coal mining and the unique methods, equipment and safety measures associated with it,” said the statement.
HD Mining was granted permission by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) to hire 201 Chinese nationals to work on the initial $300 million phase of the Murray River project.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada in turn issued work permits, which allowed HD Mining to import Chinese labourers under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.
IUOE business manager Brian Cochrane said the new evidence casts doubt on why the HRSDC granted permits for the TFWs.
“Our lawyers wish to introduce in court evidence from the B.C. government documents that show long wall mining appears to have never been planned by HD Mining for this stage,” he said.
The CSWU and IOUE have made an application to federal court for a judicial review to determine if HRSDC made errors issuing Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) to HD Mining. The unions argue that HD Mining rejected at least 300 well-qualified Canadian applicants on the initial phase of the project.
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