Union members gathered at Herb Gardner Park in Williams Lake at noon Nov. 23 calling on Premier Christy Clark to say “no” to temporary foreign workers in B.C. coal mines.
Held strategically across the street from Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett’s constituency office, participants held signs, gave speeches, and called out for Barnett to come outside. Barnett, however, was not in Williams Lake.
“When Christy Clark and Pat Bell went to China on a trade mission and signed all those multi-million dollar contracts they forgot to tell British Columbians that they were also allowed to bring in foreign workers,” said Bob McNair from the United Steelworkers Union Local 1-425.
“These demonstrations are taking place right across Canada.”
His union’s workers are employed at Mt. Polley Mine, he explained.
Mitch Van Dale, also with the Steelworkers union, said it’s not appropriate for the provincial or federal government to allow foreign workers to come into Canada to be subjected to substandard wages and safety conditions.
Also at issue is the fact Canadians are not being hired for some of the jobs, Van Dale said.
“There were a number of Canadian people that applied for the positions and a number of them were turned down. One of the conditions they have for bringing them in is that they have to be able to speak Mandarin. Another issue is the $12,000 requirement to get on a plane and a bus to come over here plus an additional $400 a month per individual.”
It’s an inappropriate use of workers and a slap in the face to Canadian workers,” Van Dale said.
Steelworker Will Phillips pointed to Johannesburg, SA where miners are being shot for rights.
“Are we going to start doing that to these Chinese when they want to be treated like B.C. workers?
“We’re introducing slavery. We’re bringing people here without the rights,” Phillips said.
Ed Adams, negotiating committee member and executive trustee with the Canadian Auto Worker (C.A.W.) Local 3018, employed at Gibraltar Mine for six years, said he wants there to be mining jobs in the future.
Holding his three-year-old son Nolan in his arms, Adams said Canadian workers are not being given a chance to work at Chinese owned coal mines.
“I have two sons. By the time they get older are there going to be any jobs for them? I work at a mine. It gives me great benefits and I am able to raise my family because of it.
“Mining is a great opportunity. Fish Lake [New Prosperity] is a great opportunity if they run it properly. You don’t need to bring foreign workers in to run these mines. We need to promote Canadian citizens,” Adams said.
“If you need to speak Mandarin, not too many electricians, millwrights, or heavy duty mechanics are going to meet that requirement.”
Steelworker Dave Lautsch has worked at Tolko’s Soda Creek mill for 25 years.
He echoed his fellow union members and said it’s unfair to both Canadian workers and foreign workers.
“For this to be condoned by any government branch is unconceivable,” Lautsch said.
Cariboo Chilcotin NDP candidate Charlie Wyse said the temporary foreign workers program is one of “exploitation.”
There is no case to be made for a shortage of skilled workers.
“Steelworkers have stated very clearly that the trained workers do exist in B.C. and in Canada.
“It’s a matter of taking advantage of the temporary foreign worker. If indeed there is a shortage then rather than using a temporary foreign workers program, they should be dealing with an immigration program in which people are encouraged to come to Canada, have landed status and become a Canadian citizen,” Wyse said.
If there is a shortage, Wyse suggested, it demonstrates a lack of skilled training dollars by the Liberal government in the last 12 years.
“An Adrian Dix NDP government gives the commitment of enlarging the openings and trainings for skills and technology.
“We’re also committed to renewing the land base so its use is properly done, and committed to skilled jobs,” Wyse said. “All of those things require investment in order for the province to continue developing.”
Brian Battison, Taseko Mines Ltd. vice president of corporate affairs, said Nov. 23 the company presently has 600 active resumes on file from people wanting to work for the company.
“We would have no need to look outside of the country for workers,” he confirmed.