Backlash over RBC case puts foreign-workers program in the spotlight
Published Tuesday, April 9, 2013 8:38AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, April 9, 2013 11:14AM EDT
It's becoming increasingly unclear who is at fault -- or if any rules were broken at all -- over allegations that the Royal Bank of Canada has brought temporary foreign workers into Canada to replace dozens of its own Canadian employees.
Reports emerged over the weekend that 45 RBC employees in Toronto are losing their jobs next month after Canada’s largest bank contracted a number of technological services to iGate, a California-based firm which specializes in sending jobs offshore.
If true, the situation appears to contravene federal rules that require companies to complete a labour market opinion (LMO) application demonstrating they are unable to fill the positions with Canadian employees before bringing in foreign workers.
Traditionally, live-in care worker positions and agriculture jobs, as well as some professional service positions, have been filled through the temporary foreign worker program.
The situation has Ottawa and Canada’s business community "in an uproar," said CTV's Mercedes Stephenson, reporting from Ottawa. "The federal government is now investigating to see exactly who is here in Canada and what kind of worker they qualify as."
Alyson Queen, a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, said Monday application documents submitted by iGate are now being reviewed based on "apparent discrepancies" between RBC's public statement and information previously given to the government.
But RBC is maintaining the bank didn't break any rules; in fact, it said it is working with the affected employees to redistribute them to other parts of the company. The replacements will be trained by the RBC employees they are set to replace.
"The bank says the people … from overseas are here because the jobs are being outsourced; they're merely here to learn how to do the jobs and they will take that knowledge back to India and they will do those jobs from India," Stephenson said.
RBC is now facing a growing backlash over the decision, with boycott calls being mounted on Facebook and other websites. The bank’s CEO Gord Nixon said Monday the media is "oversimplifying the situation."
But Leslie Seidle, research director at the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said the entire situation is "puzzling."
The employees were brought in on federally-approved LMO visas, which are only to be issued when it can be demonstrated Canadians do not want the jobs the foreign workers are coming to do. In this case, there are no empty jobs.
"There's something that doesn't jive here and I'm pleased to see the department has said it is quickly going to do an investigation," he said
Seidle added that RBC appears to be "pushing the envelope" in its interpretation of the temporary foreign worker program. He said the program needs to be reviewed to ensure it is serving its intended purpose of filling jobs with foreigners only when Canadians aren't available to do the work.
"The temporary foreign worker program is not a business engineering program; it's not intended to help companies make more money by hiring people at lower wages," Seidle said
He added that there is little documented evidence on whether other companies have interpreted the policy in the same way as RBC.