The fight by two labour unions against a company that hired more than 200 temporary workers from China for its coal mine in northeastern B.C. heads to Federal Court in Vancouver today.

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HD Mining International says the 201 Chinese workers it hired for the Tumbler Ridge coal mine in B.C. have expertise lacked by Canadian miners. (Canadian Press)

The judicial review comes as the federal temporary foreign worker program has raised controversy following a CBC report this week that foreign workers were replacing some Royal Bank staff.

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 two labour unions argue that HD Mining hired temporary foreign workers for jobs Canadians could have filled.

HD Mining International is a B.C.-based company. The majority owner is Huiyong Holdings Group, a private company from China, which operates several coal mines in that country. Vancouver-based Canadian Dehua International Mines Group also owns a stake in HD.

'At the end of the day, having the process that ensures that companies have to go through a strict criteria, and that is monitored by the federal government, that's going to give us some assurances that Canadians will get first opportunities for these jobs.'—IUOE spokesman Brian Cochrane

Brian Cochrane, of the International Union of Operating Engineers, hopes the case will result in changes to the temporary foreign worker program.

"At the end of the day, having the process that ensures that companies have to go through a strict criteria, and that is monitored by the federal government, that's going to give us some assurances that Canadians will get first opportunities for these jobs."  

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 unions have claimed HD Mining was granted permits to bring 201 temporary foreign workers from China after it rejected multiple Canadian applicants with exemplary qualifications.

MP says 'due diligence' by employers needed

The federal government, which approved the plan to bring the miners in on temporary work permits, announced it was reviewing the whole temporary worker program after the controversy ignited.

Bob Zimmer is the Conservative MP for Prince George-Peace River riding where the mine is located, and agrees the temporary foreign worker program needs to be reformed, but says there also needs to be balance.

"We want to make sure that employers are doing their due diligence, and we're doing our due diligence, by making sure the rules are being followed, but also not to impede businesses to the point where they can't operate."

HD Mining says it's glad the case will finally be heard, but is declining comment until after the hearing.

With files from Marissa Harvey