Murray River mine shelved, Chinese workers sent home

Image of longwall mining method that would be used at the Murray River mine.

Fifty-one coal workers hired to work in an underground mine in British Columbia have returned to China.

That’s because the Murray River project, being spearheaded by HD Mining International, has been shelved, at least temporarily.

The mine site, about 12 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge, is being put on care and maintenance until it receives the necessary permits and market conditions improve, according to a company spokesperson.

HD Mining faced intense public pressure in 2012 after it was revealed that the company would employ up to 500 temporary foreign workers (TFW) from China to carry out a bulk sample. Passions were further inflamed when it was discovered that a job posting for working at the mine included Mandarin as a language requirement. HD Mining said it needed workers who had experience in longwall mining, but that it had a plan to transition to Canadian workers, who typically work in “room and pillar” operations.

Two labour unions took HD Mining to court over the use of TFWs, claiming foreign workers were favoured over Canadians. However a federal judge dismissed their argument in 2013.

In December 2014 a joint federal-provincial environmental review was launched, and last October, the BC government issued an environmental assessment certificate to HD Mining with 24 conditions.

Also in 2014 the former Conservative government split the temporary foreign worker program in two, ostensibly to attract more highly-skilled workers through the new International Mobility Program.  It also put caps on foreign worker hires and prohibits companies from hiring them in regions of high unemployment.

The new Liberal government said in February it plans to launch its own review of the program.

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