Are there really no Canadians willing and able to work at a coal mine?

Reposted from: website Article:History repeats itself as temporary indentured Chinese workers come to B.C. by Daphne Bramham – Vancouver Sun

There is something deeply unsettling about the news that Chinese workers on temporary permits will be coming to British Columbia to work in a northeastern coal mine.

Canadian history is one part of the reason; Canada’s future is the other.

In the mid-19th century, Chinese workers were recruited to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. They weren’t allowed to bring their wives or children with them. They had none of the rights of other Canadians. And, they had to pay for the privilege of coming to do dangerous work for very low wages.

It was little more than six years ago that the Canadian government apologized for the Chinese head tax, offering individual payments of $20,000 to anyone alive who had paid it or any living spouse of those who had paid it.

It also set aside $34 million for projects that would reinforce a never-again message.

Yet, when the first of what could be as many as 2,000 Chinese arrive to work for Vancouver-based employer Canadian Denhua International Mines Group, they will be in strikingly similar circumstances.

They are coming as bonded labourers with their stay in Canada tied to the company that hires them and limited to two years (with a provision for an extension).

Their employer, having convinced the federal and provincial government that there are no Canadians to do the work, has paid a fee to the government for the temporary foreign workers. But there’s nothing to stop the company from charging the workers a recruitment fee.

A study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy published in 2010 found that some workers in Alberta have paid labour brokers anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 to secure jobs — a modern-day head tax.

Denhua says the workers will be paid “competitive” wages. But under the temporary foreign workers program, employers can pay 15 per cent below the average wage for that job in that region.

And, like the Chinese railway workers before them, these coal miners will not only be dependent on staying in the company’s good graces in order to hold their jobs, they will be in a remote area fully reliant on Canada Denhua for help in getting housing, health care and ensuring their safety.

Because of that and the fact that their English is so limited that, according to the company’s chief executive John Cavanagh, the company is working closely with the B.C. government to teach Chinese workers roughly 100 English words — all related to safety.

The company has signed a contract with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada guaranteeing it will pay the workers wages, hours of work, transportation to Canada and home again and health care for the first three months (after that they are covered by the provincial health plan) and must comply with health and safety provisions. But, as the IRPP study notes, the federal agency specifically says that it is not responsible for enforcing those standards.

That’s left to the province and the courts with much of the onus put on the workers to complain.

What also echoes of the past is that low-skilled workers, who are mostly from developing countries, are treated differently than high-skilled workers, who come mostly from other developed countries. Not only are the high-skilled allowed to bring their families, they are on the fast-track to citizenship.

So, what about the future? Ostensibly, the foreign miners are coming because no one here is willing or able to do the work. We’re repeatedly told that with an aging workforce, we need immigration.

But in 2008, Canada passed a dubious milestone. It now admits more temporary foreign workers than permanent economic migrants. In the past decade, the number of temporary work permits issued has more than doubled to 190,769 in 2011.

Yet as the number of temporary permits has risen to meet the needs of booming, resource-rich provinces, unemployment rates remain intractable in other provinces.

September’s national unemployment averaged 7.4 per cent. But it ranged from 4.4 per cent in Alberta to seven per cent in B.C. to 14.8 per cent in Nunavut.

Why doesn’t the federal government force employers to make it more attractive for Canadians to relocate and retrain?

If Canadians were offered free airfare, help with housing and any difference in health care premiums, they might be willing to relocate to work in underground coal mines where unskilled labourers average $24.84 an hour.

Yet, even if Canadians don’t fill the unskilled jobs, why are the federal and provincial governments allowing the vast majority of the 6,000 jobs in the Denhua mines to go to Chinese nationals?

Given the chance, isn’t it likely Canadians will train as heavy equipment operators, mechanics, production truck drivers and electricians so they can earn anywhere from $31.02 to $54.84 an hour working in an underground coal mine?

There’s certainly time since Denhua’s four mines won’t be fully operational until 2015.

National interest comes up all the time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks about selling our natural resources. But, what about the national interest in reserving well-paid jobs for the limited period that it will take to extract them?

The long-term viability of an economy based on exporting unprocessed, non-renewable resources is tenuous enough. We shouldn’t give away all the jobs as well.