Canadian Manufacturing

RBC foreign workers scandal could have positive impact in future

Ryerson University professor says magnitude of story has sparked national conversation



TORONTO—The bank embroiled in controversy over reports it outsourced jobs using Canada’s federal foreign worker program could help strengthen the reshoring movement.

To put a positive spin on a perceived negative story, Ryerson University  business professor Ron Babin says the public outcry could actually strengthen the reshoring movement.

“The impact of this story (is) a bit of a nice thing,” he says. “We’re now engaging in a discussion on the national level of the societal impacts of work going outside of Canada.”

In response to the public backlash it received following reports it turfed Canadian workers and replaced them with foreign ones, RBC issued an open letter apologizing to the affected employees, saying they would be offered “comparable job opportunities” at Canada’s largest financial firm.

Some reports claim as many as 45 employees were affected by the outsourcing.

“When I listen to the radio, the only news story that’s bigger is potential nuclear war with North Korea and the United States, so this is a pretty big story,” Babin says.

“The government of Canada has to address that, because it’s a juxtaposition with high unemployment,” he continues.

“We’ve got 300,000 (temporary foreign workers) in the country and we’ve got millions that are unemployed. Something’s out of balance.”

While the conversation about bringing jobs back to Canada has been going on for years, Babin says this so-called scandal could see industry take the intitiative to try and strike a balance between going off shore for some spects of operations while creating and sustaining jobs in Canada.

“The economics (of outsourcing) are hard to argue with,” he says, noting companies can have lower operating costs and run more efficiently when doing so.

“You don’t want to restrict that, but when we’ve got lots of unemployed people in Canada, how do we get our citizens … into those jobs so that we don’t have to look someplace else in the world?”

According to Babin, part of the responsibility will fall on the federal government to tighten up the temporary foreign worker program.

“When it becomes part of the overall business model of an organization (to rely on) temporary foreign workers when we have high unemployment, something is wrong,” he says.

“I think the federal government will tighten this up so it serves the purpose in which it was intended and it’s not abused in a way that allows (firms) to move work outside of Canada.”

The United Steelworkers union has been the most vocal challenger to both the federal program and the RBC situation, first calling for the resignation of federal human resources minister Diane Finley over her alleged “mishandling of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” and then saying it will legally challenge the government’s approval for RBC’s outsourcing plans.

“We intend to shine some light on how the government may have broken its own laws by failing to ensure the conditions for hiring temporary workers were met,” USW national director Ken Neumann said in a statement released by the union regarding the legal challenge.

According to the USW, federal law states temporary foreign workers may be hired only if necessary to “fill a labour shortage” and if the hiring “is likely to have a neutral or positive effect on the labour market in Canada.”

The union is arguing those conditions were not met by RBC when it filed its request to use temporary workers in its operations.

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