RBC Foreign Workers Controversy: Bank, Tories Take Heat Over Outsourcing Plans

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RBC FOREIGN WORKERS BOYCOTT
Royal Bank CEO Gord Nixon is shown in Toronto on March 2, 2007. News that RBC is planning to replace some of its employees in Toronto with outsourced foreign workers has prompted a “boycott RBC” campaign even as some critics lay the blame for the situation with the Harper government’s labour and immigration policies. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld) | CP

News that RBC is planning to replace some of its employees in Toronto with outsourced foreign workers has prompted numerous “boycott RBC” campaigns even as some critics lay the blame for the situation with the Harper government’s labour and immigration policies.

CBC reported over the weekend that RBC is planning to replace 45 employees at RBC Investor Services with employees of Indian outsourcing firm iGate. The current RBC employees are to train the new workers before they are given the pink slip.

That has prompted outrage among some consumer activists, with “Boycott RBC” campaigns popping up on Facebook.

The largest of these is urging members to write to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and cabinet ministers to pressure them to stop the outsourcing of Canadian jobs.

Twitter has also exploded, with numerous people urging a boycott of the bank, and others arguing the bank has little reason for the cost-cutting move: It saw a record $7.5-billion profit for the fiscal year that ended last October.

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People have had enough. Our government is selling out our futures to big oil and big banks,” Jennifer Ridge, a McMaster University student activist, told the CBC. “55,000 jobs lost in the Canadian economy this month alone and RBC makes $1.9 billion in their last quarter — I knew that would get a lot of people going."

In a letter to staff obtained by the Globe and Mail, RBC CEO Gord Nixon reiterated an earlier press release from the bank that "RBC has not hired temporary foreign workers to take over the job functions of these employees."

But that seems to be an argument built on a technicality, as it is iGate, the outsourcing company, that employs the workers who will be replaced. The iGate employees are being brought to Canada temporarily to train for the job.

UPDATE: Nixon reiterated his denial in an interview with CBC's The Lang & O'Leary Exchange on Monday.

"Absolutely not," he said when asked if RBC was hiring temporary foreign workers. "Firstly, RBC has not and does not hire any temporary foreign workers."

Nixon went on to explain that iGate has "maybe one person who is actually here under a temporary foreign work visa. ... The rest are just people here for the transition process."

But Nixon did not deny that some 45 RBC employees were losing their jobs as a result of the iGate contract -- something an earlier RBC press release accepted as fact -- or that the iGate employees are in Canada to prepare to take over functions currently carried out by RBC staff in Canada.

Some critics are taking the opportunity to question government policies, arguing that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s immigration and labour initiatives are making it easier than ever for companies to replace Canadian workers with lower-paid workers from outside Canada.

The NDP accused the government of helping RBC make the move to foreign workers.

In a statement released Monday, the opposition party quoted an RBC executive as saying during a CTV interview that the bank had been “in conversation with government departments last week as this came forward and we are working with them.”

Conservative policies are exacerbating Canada’s unemployment troubles and accelerating the export of Canadian jobs,” the NDP said.

But the Harper government expressed surprise at RBC’s move, with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley describing it as “unacceptable” and promising to examine whether it violated hiring rules.

The Harper government has been increasing the number of people arriving on temporary foreign worker permits. While the number of permanent immigrants arriving to Canada annually has stayed stable in recent years, the number of foreign workers coming to Canada jumped 56 per cent between 2005 and 2012, to nearly 200,000 annually, the Ottawa Citizen reports.

Canada’s temporary foreign workers program — which was created in the 1960s to bring agricultural workers into the country and has been expanded gradually ever since — has come in for criticism before, most recently in a controversy involving a British Columbia company, HD Mining, which sought to bring more than 200 Chinese workers to a mine in Murray River.

Labour unions asked the Federal Court to throw out the Chinese citizens’ work permits after alleging the company had advertised for the position in a way that made it almost impossible for local miners to qualify. Among the requirements was the ability to speak Chinese.

A federal government review, carried out last fall, found HD Mining had followed the rules for foreign workers but noted that the way the company went about hiring them “raise[d] questions regarding the employer's intent and/or the genuineness of these job offers."

A poll carried out last fall found nearly seven in 10 Canadians oppose granting foreign worker permits for positions where there are qualified Canadians available to take the job.