Temporary Foreign Workers – What went wrong at Tumbler Ridge?

Temporary foreign worker permits for a proposed mine in Tumbler Ridge, B.C have been the subject of numerous media reports. Two unions started a court challenge involving the federal immigration and human resources ministers, HD Mining and an associated holding company. The battle in court is a judicial review focusing on the government’s decision to issue the temporary foreign worker permits. However, the company is the one getting much of the heat.

The company was recently forced to disclose 300 resumes from Canadian applicants that it claimed were all unqualified. The Chinese workers who received the permits were not just random applicants with the right experience: they were employees of the company or a related entity, working at one of its mines in China. Besides the Canadian resumes the company received and rejected, there was also an issue of Mandarin language skills being listed as a job requirement in advertisements. As the public relations and court battle progressed the workers who were waiting to start work were sent home and the project stalled.

The first step in the process to bring in these type of workers is applying for a labour market opinion from Service Canada. This is where the Tumbler Ridge dispute centers – did the company provide the following information accurately based on valid evidence and did the government properly issue the opinion and permits. The following is a summary of the factors considered in an labour market opinion:

  • The occupation in which the foreign worker will be employed
  • The wages and working conditions offered to the foreign worker
  • The employer’s advertisement and recruitment efforts to hire Canadians/permanent residents
  • The associated labour market benefits that may occur from hiring the foreign worker (e.g., transfer of new skills/knowledge, creation/retention of jobs, etc.)
  • Consultations with organized labour if the position the foreign worker will fill is part of a bargaining unit
  • Determination if the entry of the foreign worker is likely to affect the settlement of an ongoing labour dispute(Citizenship and Immigration Canada,

The crux of this dispute is about whether the company had enough evidence that there were no appropriately skilled local workers. Regardless of how the court battles ends, the unions have clearly made the point: if you want to operate in B.C. you better have good reasons for not hiring B.C. workers.

This particular dispute is fraught with political and social issues, but could become an increasing issue for many companies. A dire shortage of skilled workers is predicted to expand over the next decade by BC universities (Research Universities’ Council of BC). So, if your company faces an increased challenge in finding skilled workers, be careful when entering the temporary foreign worker fray.


Written by Boughton Law’s former Associate Anne Muter.


Tags: Article; Employment; Immigration