Foreign worker flap hurting economy

Fighting the use of foreign workers is merely a smokescreen used to fight non-union companies

British Columbia’s labour leaders might be calling the homeward-bound trip for 16 Chinese temporary foreign workers a success, but they’re celebrating an empty victory that hurts everyone in B.C.

The 16 jobs in question at HD Mining’s Murray River Project near Tumbler Ridge were highly specialized – and the Chinese workers had those skills. It was the start of something bigger – and a total of 200 specialized miners to do preparatory mining at the site and see if it was feasible. They were slated to train Canadian workers in new underground skills. Local workers would have learned new skills – something that will really help as demand for skilled workers ramps up across B.C., Canada, and the globe. But thanks to legal challenges driven by big labour, the uncertainty about being able to use the workers has led HD Mining to send the first of these miners home to China. The future of this $300 million project is far from guaranteed. The impact goes well beyond these workers and will be felt throughout the community and the B.C. economy.

A mine is about more than the miners. All of the other jobs – in addition some of the mining jobs – would have been filled by Canadians. Those are at risk.

Businesses in the local community could count on increased trade – and the need for new workers – spinning out of the mine. Those jobs are at risk.

Canadian employees with construction companies, restaurants and hotels are just a few of the sectors that would have been employed supporting a project like this. Those jobs are at risk.

And when the mine gets to full operation, a hefty tax bill every year would flow plenty of revenue into federal, provincial and municipal coffers – the kind of money that goes to roads, community centres and hospitals. That revenue is at risk.

It raises the question of how anyone can see putting this project at risk as good news.

To date HD Mining has driven $50 million into employment in developing the mine – in drilling and exploration, in design and surface prep and in housing development for the workers. That’s out of a total projected capital expense of $300 million.

There are plenty of temporary foreign workers bringing their skills to every corner of British Columbia. They work on every type of project, and some of them even work on job sites that are – wait for it – unionized. Some are even working in unionized mines. The labour movement is cherry-picking its issues. It seems that fighting the use of foreign workers is merely a smokescreen used to fight non-union companies.

B.C. jobs, government revenue and community services are at stake in this fight. The selfish motives of B.C.’s big union bosses are sending an investment-chilling message that British Columbia is closed for business. That offers bleak prospects for all workers. If investment halts, union workers and non-union workers will miss out on the jobs and the paycheques. •