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Canadian unions say the Chinese miners are being paid well below the going rate for the work they do. (David Crigge/Associated Press)

A federal court judge in Vancouver has approved a bid by two unions for a judicial review of the decision to grant temporary work permits for Chinese miners to work in a B.C. mine.

The International Union of Operating Engineers and the Construction and Specialized Workers Union claim HD Mining Internatonal Ltd. offered wages at well below the going rate for such work in Canada, among other violations.

HD hired the workers for its Murray River mine near Tumbler Ridge, saying it was unable to find Canadian workers with the necessary skills for a special type of work called long-wall mining.

Safety concerns cited

As part of the dispute, the United Steelworkers Union said Thursday it had filed a complaint with the provincial mines ministry over the safety conditions facing the foreign workers.

Steelworkers director Steve Hunt wants work at the Murray River site suspended because he says the Chinese workers don't speak English well enough to understand and comply with hundreds of pages of health and safety rules.

A mines ministry spokesperson says the mine is still under environmental assessment and has not been approved, and work must begin before the ministry can inspect the site to determine compliance with provincial rules.