The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick Minister of Human Resources Diane Finley in the House of Commons on November 1, 2012.

VANCOUVER—The federal government was ordered Thursday to turn over to two B.C. trade unions the permits it granted up to 300 Chinese miners to see whether those jobs could have been done by Canadian workers.

In a decision late Thursday in federal court, Judge Douglas Campbell awarded the two unions access to the Labour Market Opinions, the federal government term for the temporary work permits that allows foreign workers to come to Canada. Federal lawyers had argued against releasing the LMOs because of concerns that allowing the permits to be made public could open the floodgates to wide access. They said the permits could provide information that could violate privacy and raise competition issues for the companies that wanted to bring in workers.

HD Mining International Ltd., Canadian Dehua International Mines Group and Huiyong Holdings B.C. sided with the federal government in arguing the trade unions should not have access to those permits.

The permits will allow 200 to 300 miners from China to come to northern B.C. to work at the Murray River Coal Mine near Tumbler Ridge. Already about a dozen miners from China have arrived to do preliminary surveillance work and another 60 were scheduled to be in Canada by mid-December.

“We’re very happy with the decision, it means trade unions clearly have a public interest standing to bring these issues forward,” said Charles Gordon, the lawyer representing the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union, Local 1611 and International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115.

The federal government had argued that the unions should have no standing to demand a judicial review of the permits because an individual worker should be the one to make the claim.

But the union argued that because they don’t know how the permits were granted, they needed to broaden the issue to demand all of the permits. It’s unclear exactly how many permits were issued because the federal government issued some LMOs that covered as many as 65 positions. Lorne Lachance, the lawyer for the Department of Justice representing the federal government, declined to comment as did lawyers for the mining companies.

The unions have also indicated they wanted an injunction to prevent the 60 miners expected next month from arriving in Canada before a judicial review of the permits could be heard in court.

Federal Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley had issued a statement saying the ministry is now looking into the case to ensure that appropriate rules were followed in the issuing of the temporary work permits. B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said after the ruling that the permits will allow the unions to read whether the government conducted a proper investigation to determine whether Canadians could have done the job or been trained to do the work that was supposed to be done by the Chinese miners.

“The people of Canada and the government of Canada lost,” Sinclair said. “They tried to block the rights of a trade union to say we want to see their decision, a decision on whether Canadians could do these jobs or not.”

The unions maintain that they have dozens of members living in the region who are available to be trained or do the work that has been given to the Chinese workers at wages about 25 per cent less than those paid to their Canadian counterparts.

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