Nova Scotia

Donkin mine punished for violations under temporary foreign worker program

The operator of the Donkin coal mine is facing sanctions under the temporary foreign worker program after an investigation found the company was paying American workers far more than it said it would when the jobs were advertised to Canadians.

Company provided high salaries, bonuses and benefits for American workers

A truck leaves the Donkin Mine in Cape Breton on Aug. 3, 2017. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

The operator of the Donkin coal mine is facing sanctions under the temporary foreign worker program after an investigation found the company was paying American workers far more than it said it would when the jobs were advertised to Canadians.

A 2016 investigation by Service Canada resulted in Kameron Coal being levied an administrative penalty of $230,000 and receiving a 10-year ban on accessing the program.

The sanctions were reduced last year to a $54,000 fine and a one-year ban on using temporary foreign workers, as well as posting the company's name and violations on the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada website listing non-compliant employers.

The ban on using temporary foreign workers would not apply to existing employees.

Kameron Coal has since appealed the sanctions to the Federal Court.

Shannon Campbell, vice-president of the Donkin mine, said in a brief emailed statement that Kameron Coal can't comment because of the appeal.

The company was originally allowed to hire temporary foreign workers because it couldn't find enough Canadians to fill positions at the only underground coal mine in the country.

According to court documents, the American-owned company then offered U.S. employees between 60 and 120 per cent more in salaries and up to 60 per cent more in overtime, plus a range of other cash bonuses and benefits that weren't on offer to Canadians.

Gary Taje, the international representative of the United Mine Workers of America, says he's not surprised Kameron Coal is facing sanctions. (United Mine Workers of America)

In at least two cases, Americans got jobs at $77 an hour that were originally valued at $32-35 an hour.

The company initially agreed one salaried position was valued at around $88,000, but the employee was actually paid $192,000.

Several employees were also offered cash bonuses for signing, housing bonuses and retention bonuses of up to $20,000 a year, in addition to paid pensions and health benefits. 

Late last year, Kameron Coal laid off more than a third of its employees, saying it had issues with productivity and equipment.

The miners are not unionized, but the United Mine Workers of America has been trying to organize the employees.

'This isn't a surprise to us,' says union rep

Gary Taje, the UMWA's international representative in Canada, said the union has always opposed the use of foreign workers at the Donkin mine.

It's no surprise the company is facing federal sanctions, he said.

"We knew there was an investigation of the temporary foreign workers," Taje said. "We weren't exactly sure what it was about, but this isn't a surprise to us that they've done this.

"In November, they fired a number of Canadian workers, some of whom were tradesmen, and left temporary foreign workers there. I think that in itself should have been a violation."

Taje said there are qualified Canadian miners who could fill the jobs at Donkin.

Recent court decision

Kameron Coal recently applied to the court for a stay to get its name off the website listing non-compliant employers while it appeals the other penalties, but a judge ruled against the company on July 10.

The judge said the company failed to prove it was likely to win its appeal and failed to prove irreparable harm to its reputation from being listed on the website.

The Federal Court appeal has not been finalized.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.