Report warned Temporary Foreign Worker Program was poised for misuse

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

It is increasingly apparent that the controversy surrounding the Royal Bank of Canada allegedly replacing Canadian employees with cheaper temporary foreign workers is not a standalone issue, but rather the inevitable outcome of an immigration program that was flawed from the outset.

RBC continues to deny any wrongdoing after 45 IT positions were contracted out to an outsourcing agency, iGate, which employs foreign workers who have received temporary work permits.

Since then, however, several former employees of other financial institutions, including TD Bank, CIBC and the Bank of Montreal, have told CBC News they were similarly replaced by temporary workers in the past year or so.

In fact, controversy stretches back to last year, when a British Columbia mining operation was found to have hired 200 Chinese workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program without taking the necessary steps to attempt to hire qualified Canadians.

[ Debate: Are banks using immigration loopholes to hire temp workers? ]

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is designed to help Canadian employers fill vacant positions “when Canadian citizens and permanent residents are not available to do the job.” But it appears the system is being abused. The Toronto Star reports that iGate received government clearance to hire temporary foreign workers, raising questions about how RBC ended up hiring the agency to fill those outsourced positions.

An immigration report dating back to 2011 claims the TFWP is tilted to provide access to an inexpensive, disposable foreign workforce without concern for the workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union’s (UFCW) "Report on the Status of Migrant Workers in Canada" claims the Temporary Foreign Workers Program took the management of immigration out of the hands of the government and gave it to businesses.

“Employers wield their control over workers unfettered by effective governmental oversight or the mediating power of a union,” the report reads. “When one of the few rules that do exist relating to migrant workers is violated by the employer, it is the migrant worker and not the employer who typically pays the price.”

[ More Brew: RBC outsourcing controversy a new low-point for TFWP ]

UFCW president Wayne Hanley took a harsher line with the current RBC controversy, claiming the government turned a blind eye to flaws in the system.

“This shameful deceit is just another example of how the Harper government's temporary foreign worker programs were designed to benefit a handful of wealthy companies and Harper’s super-rich corporate friends," Hanley said in a statement.

The program is intended to fill vacancies, not cut bottom lines. Yet it seems there have been concerns for some time. Economist Erin Weir wrote in the Globe and Mail that the program needed to be reined in, with the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada ballooning to 338,000 under the Harper government.

“With remarkably little evidence or public consultation, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has added the equivalent of a small province to Canada’s labour market," he wrote.

How many of those are filling vacancies, and how many are taking jobs? Is there any way to be sure?