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HD Mining International says it hired workers from China because the Canadians who applied for the jobs weren't qualified. (iStock)

The Federal Court of Canada has dismissed a challenge launched by two unions against a company that hired more than 200 temporary workers from China for its coal mine in northeastern B.C.

The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union have claimed HD Mining was granted permits to bring 201 temporary foreign workers from China after it rejected multiple Canadian applicants with exemplary qualifications.

But the court upheld an immigration officer’s decision to allow the temporary foreign mining workers into B.C., saying the officer’s assessment was not unreasonable.

HD Mining International issued a statement applauding the decision.

"This is a complete vindication of our company, but it has come at a great cost and has raised significant questions in the international investment community," said a statement issued by the company.

"During these months of litigation, the unions made many allegations – both in court and the media – which we frankly found appalling," said the statement.

"We knew this litigation was driven by a political agenda and we knew we needed to wait for a Canadian court to reject these claims. It has taken a long time, but today is that day."

The office of the federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley issued a brief statement saying the government respects the court's decision.

"Our government is taking decisive action for Canadian workers by reforming the temporary foreign worker program and making sure that Canadians workers are always put first," said the statement issued by the minister's press secretary Jan O'Driscoll. 

Federal officer did not err, judge ruled

In his decision, Justice Russel Zinn concluded that the federal officer who approved the temporary foreign work permits made a reasonable assessment, based on the labour market conditions and the company's efforts to hire Canadians.

"The real question is whether there was anything before the officer from which he should reasonably have concluded that the applicant had failed to make reasonable efforts to hire Canadians.

"In approaching that question, one must keep in mind that there was a labour shortage in the mining industry, that CDI’s application had been approved only 12 months earlier for the same project, and that CDI and HD Mining both did recruitment.

"The [unions'] submission is that the few persons interviewed from those who applied ought to have raised the officer’s suspicion that the recruitment was not genuine. I find nothing to support that view given the background described and particularly given that the decision was being made by an experienced program officer.

"Further, despite the submissions made by counsel, I do not share the view that the low number of interviews alone would have reasonably raised a concern that the recruitment process was not genuine or sincere." 

No qualified Canadians found

HD Mining International says it hired 201 workers from China for its coal mine in Tumbler Ridge because the 300 Canadians who applied for the jobs weren't qualified.

The company claims no other mine in Canada uses a method it plans to employ at its Murray River project in Tumbler Ridge.

The technique is called long-wall mining — coal is extracted along a wall in large blocks and then carried out on a conveyor belt.

The federal government, which approved the plan to bring the miners in on temporary work permits, is reviewing the whole temporary worker program.