RBC outsourcing controversy a new low-point for Temporary Foreign Workers Program

A Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) logo is seen at a branch in Toronto November 9, 2007. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
Expect the Conservative government to react quickly to the recent controversy surrounding the Royal Bank of Canada replacing some 45 employees with an agency staffed by temporary foreign workers.

It is a bad time, politically speaking, to be seen lying down when it comes to Canada’s troubled foreign workers program.

News broke over the weekend that RBC was replacing Canadian workers with those with temporary work visas – a program meant to help companies struggling to fill temporary positions. Not banks looking to cut overhead.

The bank released a statement on Sunday claiming that they weren't replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers. They were just relieving Canadians of their positions of employment and hiring a company, iGATE Corp., to do jobs instead. Is it their fault if iGATE hires temporary foreign workers to fill the positions?

[ Related: Temporary foreign worker program called a failure ]

The Toronto Star further reports that those 45 affected workers are being asked to train their replacements.

Greg Grice, RBC's head of Enterprise Services and chief procurement officer, said in a statement:

RBC agreements with suppliers, including in this case iGATE, requires them to ensure that they are abiding by the applicable laws and regulations. External suppliers allow us to leverage their scale and technical skills to continually improve our operational processes and service, and re-invest in initiatives that enhance the client experience.

So what is the deal with a few lost jobs, one asks innocently? Don’t people lose work all the time? Well, if the allegations against RBC are found to be true, it would be the highest-profile instance of a company misappropriating the government’s temporary foreign worker program.

[ More Brew: Review of TFW program rare climbdown for Harper gov't ]

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Minister Diane Finley was quick to react to the controversy, saying her staff was taking it seriously.

“If true, this situation is unacceptable,” Finley said in a statement. “The purpose of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is to fill acute labour needs when Canadians are not available for the work required. It was never intended as a means to bring in temporary foreign workers in order to replace already-employed Canadian workers.”

Keep in mind that Canadians rarely take kindly to stories about banks doing anything but cutting interest rates. Especially when it comes to cutting jobs and worrying about their bottom line. (I’m just going to leave this link to a story about RBC’s $7.5 billion profit right here.)

There is already a Facebook page calling for a boycott on RBC, and the Conservative’s immigration strategy was a noted topic of derision at last weekend’s Liberal leadership convention.

Candidate Justin Trudeau was among those who took jabs at the government for it, saying Canadians have a vision that “sees newcomers to this country as community- and nation-builders; as citizens, not just employees, or a demographic to be mined for votes.”

The government launched a review of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program late last year after more than 200 Chinese coal miners were hired to work in a B.C. mine. Finley said at the time they were concerned that the company did not look hard enough for capable Canadian employees.

The Star recently reported that the government even more recently expressed concern over the temporary foreign workers program because it was being used to fill "long-term" positions instead of helping to meet short-term needs (in other words, companies were taking the "temporary" out of Temporary Foreign Workers Program).

“Concerns have been raised regarding employers’ efforts to genuinely recruit and/or invest in training opportunities for Canadians prior to hiring TFWs,” a background paper reportedly read.

All this explains why Finley released an official statement promising a "review" of the RBC controversy, even as she explains they are merely allegations. It's a bad time to be seen sleeping on the subject.