Steelworkers Question 'Thorough Investigation' of Foreign Worker Recruitment Allegations

BURNABY, BC, Feb. 15, 2013 /CNW/ - The United Steelworkers (USW) is questioning the B.C. government's "thorough investigation" of alleged employment standards violations in the recruitment of foreign workers for B.C. mining jobs.

Following discussions with a Ministry of Labour official, the USW believes the investigation may not have been as thorough as the ministry suggests.

The USW notes government investigators did not contact key individuals involved in exposing concerns over the recruitment of workers for B.C. mining jobs.

"Some vital information seems to have been overlooked," says Steelworkers Western Canada Director Steve Hunt. "Under the circumstances, it's not easy for us to 'just trust' officials who say they conducted a 'thorough investigation.' "

Reports of recruitment practices appeared in the online journal The Tyee on Oct. 23, 2012. Journalist Jeremy Nuttall said he and others contacted a company called Canada CIBS Group and asked about jobs at a northeastern B.C. coal mine operated by HD Mining and other Chinese-owned firms.

Nuttall reported that he spoke to recruiters who wanted $12,500 per person for jobs in the mine and that "the employer" would collect $400 a month from each worker. If true, USW is concerned that such practices by the recruiters and/or "the employer" may have violated B.C. employment standards law that prohibits seeking payments in return for jobs.

In response to a complaint by the B.C. Federation of Labour and concerns raised by Steelworkers and other unions, Jobs Minister Pat Bell promised to investigate.

A Vancouver Sun story of Oct. 23, 2012, reported that Bell said in response to concerns raised by B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair: "It is a serious allegation. I hope he has substance to it. If he does, we will get to the bottom of it."

In a Jan. 28, 2013 letter to Steelworkers, B.C. deputy minister of employment Dave Byng states: "in late November 2012 the Employment Standards Branch completed its investigation into whether (temporary foreign workers) were charged for employment at HD Mining. The Branch found no evidence of contravention of the Employment Standards Act. There was no evidence in this case of employees being charged fees in British Columbia or by B.C.-based recruiters, nor was there evidence that fees were being charged in respect of employees of HD Mining."

Employment Standards Branch director Chris Johnson told a Steelworkers representative that her staff "did a thorough investigation."

However, Johnson admitted the branch did not contact Nuttall or Sinclair, nor did it contact anyone in China. Johnson said her branch "has no ability to investigate in China" and her staff did not follow up those leads even though the workers were coming from China.

So what information did government consider when it concluded there was 'no evidence' of workers being charged fees by 'B.C.-based recruiters?'

The Steelworkers point out that the recruiting firm contacted by Jeremy Nuttall and others has a Vancouver office, and its website states "Canada CIBS group is in the Canadian B.C." The union questions how and why the B.C. government may have concluded that the company reportedly linked to recruitment fees is not "B.C.-based."

"We'll be pressing the government to come clean," says Steve Hunt.

"British Columbians need to know there was indeed a thorough investigation. The B.C. government needs to take seriously its obligation to enforce minimum standards laws put in place to protect workers from paying recruitment fees. We will ensure that the government is held to account."

SOURCE: United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information:

Contacts:

Steve Hunt, USW Western Canada Director, 604-816-2554
Brad West, USW Communications, 604-754-1174


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