Canadians Aren’t Buying the Banksplaining

So, am I the only parent of small children struck by the familiar tone of RBC’s Temporary Foreign Worker damage control message fiasco? In a CBC interview that was basically a clinic for how not to do PR, Chief Human Resources Officer Zabeen Hirji’s attempt at banksplaining sounded suspiciously like a Sharon, Lois and Bram singalong: “Who, me? Yes, you. Couldn’t be! Then who? iGate hired temporary foreign workers from the global labour market cookie jar!”

(Although kudos to CBC for reminding those of us who haven’t seen one in a while what a tough interview—of a Corporate Canada spokesperson, anyway—actually looks like.)

While this interview represented perhaps some the most challenging work Ms. Hirji ever has had to do for her paycheque, the eight-minute train wreck was eclipsed only hours later. RBC’s President and CEO Gord Nixon continued to insist this unfortunate incident wasn’t indicative of how “responsibly” RBC usually handles outsourcing and the “transitioning” of affected employees (which I’m pretty sure is a euphemism for a process that in reality is nowhere near as awesome as it sounds).

Nixon’s later admission that perhaps RBC could have handled this situation more “sensitively”—as if putting some of last year’s $7.5 billion in profits towards a hot stone massage and a pick-me-up bouquet would have made a world of difference—didn’t do much to quell the public outrage that included calls for a boycott of Canada’s largest bank.

After all, as any parent knows, it’s a little difficult to believe a corporate line that bears a striking resemblance to a child actively cramming the last piece of chocolate into his mouth while alternating between a mumbled “sorry, Mommy” and “Daddy did it”.

Outsourcing is not new, and certainly not new to banks (because as we know it’s not just RBC that has engaged in this practice, or in the practice of “not” hiring temporary foreign workers). But now we have legislation that amounts to, according to Armine Yalnizyan, a public policy pile-on, sacrificing a secure workforce and decent standard of living on the altar of corporate profits.

As Erin Weir explains, with little public consultation—or, you know, evidence—the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has added the equivalent of a small province (bigger than Newfoundland and Labrador or PEI, but not quite as big as New Brunswick) to the Canadian labour market.

The cynic in me might suggest that the enormous take-up enjoyed by the program has a little something to do with allowing employers to pay temporary foreign workers 15% less than the prevailing wage. Would TFW be as popular if employers had to pay wages at parity? Or does the popularity of the program have more to do with employers seeing the additional profit potential in further underpaying already vulnerable workers?

We were assured that temporary foreign workers were only there—on a, well, temporary basis—to meet the market needs that Canadian workers were unable to fulfill (either because, depending on this week’s target of convenience, universities aren’t “educating for today’s workplace needs” or because “Canadian workers don’t have the required work ethic”).

But clearly in the case of RBC, the issue is not a skills mismatch—in fact, the “soon-to-be-transitioned” employees were training the people who would be replacing them. It’s equally unlikely that McDonalds, Tim Hortons and Maple Leaf Foods (just three of the employers identified in an Access to Information request by the Alberta Federation of Labour) require a skill level of their employees that is currently absent in the Canadian workforce.

Caterpillar Canada—who shut down its London Electro-Motive plant and relocated to Indiana to take full advantage of recently-passed so-called Right-to-Work legislation—refused to comment on its hiring of temporary foreign workers. And apparently, in spite of the 1.4 million unemployed Canadians (six for every unfilled job in the country), without being able to hire 2,000 temporary foreign workers, “many Tim Hortons restaurants would not be able to open full-time, or in many cases, remain open at all.”

Really?

In spite of the understandable public outrage at hugely profitable corporations choosing to hire temporary foreign workers at 15% less than what they would have to pay Canadian workers, we need to recognize what this is really about.

It’s not about a “skills mismatch” or a “labour shortage”. It’s not about “a few bad apples”. And it’s not about “foreigners” taking “Canadian jobs”.

It’s about governments implementing public policy that facilitates and reinforces corporate greed over public benefit without giving sufficient thought to the consequences. It’s about driving down wages for all workers, while taking advantage of a temporary labour pool that, because of economic insecurity, is unlikely to speak out or fight for a better standard of living or improved workplace conditions for all of us. And it’s about the pervasive assumption that, like a spoiled child, what the market wants, the market must have. Now.

Ironically, if the lack of a coherent jobs strategy remains unaddressed, and if the structural issues of the temporary foreign workers program—and its abuse by a number of employers—is ignored, this government might end up looking like Ned Flanders’ beatnick parents who, uncomfortable with disciplining their self-indulgent offspring, have “tried nothin’ and are all out of ideas”.

Canadians seem to be reaching their limit when it comes to the narcissistic childish behaviour a number of our most profitable corporations are demonstrating; the taking for granted of the very individuals on whom corporate profits depend; the disregard for those people who, in some cases, even help pay the bills.

And as RBC is discovering, it turns out that when Canadians are this fed up, even corporations might get grounded.

5 comments

  1. “It’s about governments implementing public policy that facilitates and reinforces corporate greed over public benefit without giving sufficient thought to the consequences.”

    Mmm, no, I think those were exactly the consequences they were looking for. We tend to assume that the right wing wants growth (because they talk about it all the time) and merely has nonsensical ways of trying to get it. But what they really want is wealth as a positional good–inequality itself is the goal. It doesn’t matter if the economy shrinks as long as they’re in control and it’s easier to hire servants.

  2. well said and it hits the nail on the head. My additional comment is that these Corporations have committed Treason towards Canada, its Economy and its People. Government you better fix it or you are out next election

  3. The actual truth is that RBC started outsourcing jobs to Igate over 4 years ago … not just last year or a few months back.

    Over four years ago, RBC shut down all three of its Technical Support (IT) call centres (in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal) and outsourced everything to India’s Igate.

    I was one of the 200+ Technical Support Analysts who lost my job to Igate. And yes, all of us had to train/assist on calls with our replacements in India for a full month before the official hand-over.

    Zabeen Hirji is lying, plain and simple. The public deserves to know the truth. Until then, RBC is fully deserving of all fallout, and CEO Gordon Nixon should hang his head in shame.

  4. The temporary foreign worker program is simply a guise to acquire cheap labor at the expense of Canadian citizens.

    Let’s review the evidence shall we?

    1. Bringing in cheap foreign labor erodes competitive labor markets that are needed in order to drive up Canadian worker’s wages so that they might enjoy a decent standard of living.

    2. Temporary foreign workers are in theory born from neoliberalism capitalist ideology that states and i quote ” the only responsibility of businesses is to maximize profits”

    3. Temporary foreign worker programs deprive Canadian youth of the transitory jobs that they need in order to transition into higher paying work. People who go months on end being unemployed are almost considered unemployable by business. This sets our youth up for future failure and a society that relies on government handouts for their survival.

    4. Temporary foreign worker program deviates from free capitalist ideology and moves into socialistic capitalist theory and essentially props up businesses that should otherwise fail with cheap labor.

    5. Temporary foreign workers are abused verbally, emotionally and sometimes put in harms way physically so that inefficient businesses can stay afloat.

    6. Temporary foreign worker programs add to the growing socioeconomic inequality that is destroying western industrialized countries by crushing labor sectors.

    We could go on and on all day long. Believe the propaganda of business or believe the academics? Who do you truly think has the average Canadian’s best interests at heart?

    Vote out the conservatives and elect the party that acts on the demands of Canadian citizens.

  5. These treasonous acts are still going on. I work in the IT division of RBC and there are now more Indians from iGate/Accenture working there than any number of recent Canadian University graduates. These people pay no taxes in Canada yet they use the infrastructure that we paid for as law abiding taxpayers. What happens when you have no tax payers left? I would not recommend anyone get into IT as a career choice in Canada. The jobs are being off-shored and you will not be able to find any here. But David McKay CEO of RBC will get an Order of Canada medal for being a captain of Industry. This is why large segments of the Canadian population see Globalisation as a tool used by the wealthy elites to enrich themselves, their cronies and government lapdogs AKA our politicians, both federal and provincial. Then they vote for morons like Trump! This used to be a great country until “Greed is good!” became corporate religion.

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