Donkin coal mine's use of temporary foreign workers questioned by union
Kameron Coal spokeswoman says 3 U.S. workers are providing maintenance expertise 'related to safety'
A coal mine in Cape Breton might be the last place you'd expect to see temporary foreign workers, but the U.S. owners of the Donkin coal mine have brought in help from West Virginia to get the mine into operation.
"I'd like to know exactly what those people are doing down there," said Brian Tobin, a business agent for local 1852 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Sydney.
Kameron Coal confirms
Donkin is being developed by Kameron Coal, a subsidiary of the Cline Group, which is owned by billionaire coal baron Chris Cline.
The company confirmed to CBC News that it has brought in three temporary foreign workers from West Virginia.
However, spokeswoman Stephanie MacDougall would not discuss Kameron Coal's use of temporary foreign workers, saying only they are providing maintenance expertise "related to safety."
"Kameron is not interested in talking about this at this time," she said.
"The company is focusing on safely getting coal out of the ground this fall. At that time the company will give a full update to the community."
Majority of employees local
Right now, about 50 people are working underground at Donkin. The company says the vast majority are locals, as were the 300 contractors brought in to overhaul the long-mothballed mine.
It was dug by the now-defunct Cape Breton Development Corporation but never went into production.
Tobin said a former Kameron Coal worker at Donkin told him recently that three West Virginians were working as electricians underground.
"If they are, in fact, doing something in the mine that is of a technical nature, that we don't have the experience for, then we don't have a problem with that as people of Cape Breton," he said.
"But I don't see anything in that coal mine that needs technical people from another country in here doing it."
Price worth paying
Tobin said he has been unable to get answers from local Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner or Nova Scotia's Department of Labour and Advanced Education. Cuzner's office told CBC News it has made inquiries but the MP was unavailable to speak until Wednesday.
The provincial government said it would be best to contact the federal government.
"The responsibility of giving employers in Nova Scotia permission to hire temporary foreign workers lies with the federal government," said Lisa Jarrett, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.
Tobin acknowledges some people will see a few temporary foreign workers as a price worth paying if it means reviving underground coal mining.
"Some people will say, 'OK, we'll sacrifice three Cape Breton jobs so we can get 20 or 30 jobs,' but I don't think that's fair. I don't think there should be a Cape Bretoner unemployed when he has the expertise to be working in his back yard."