Banking skills

A discussion about the Temporary Foreign Worker program blew up my Twitter feed over the weekend. It has been discussed on this blog here and here.

As you probably already know, on Friday the CBC reported that the Royal Bank of Canada is replacing 45 workers with workers from "a multinational outsourcing firm from India – iGATE Corp. – which has a contract with the bank to provide IT services."

People across the political spectrum reacted with outrage and disgust.

Royal Bank of Canada CEO, Gordon Nixon, explained to RBC staff that hiring a company to replace them with lower-paid workers is different than doing it himself and Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer for RBC, tried to do the same for a wider audience.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley expressed her dismay and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney suggested that any company that was "playing some kind of a shell game, that is not consistent with the rules... should have the book thrown at them” (see CBC story above).

But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour obtained a government list of more than 4,000 companies given approval to hire temporary foreign workers last year, many in the service industry.
 "You look down this list and what you see is McDonald's, Tim Hortons, and Subway. This list goes on. It stretches the bounds of credibility that all of these employers have been using temporary foreign workers to hire skilled workers."

Armine Yalnizyan from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives tweeted this StatsCan chart about the growth in the use of temporary foreign workers in Canada since 2006:

and participated in a conversation about the Temporary Foreign Worker program with Ron Babin on CBC's The Current.

 Erin Weir in the Globe and Mail reports that:
Since 2008, the number of temporary foreign workers has increased by 24,000 or 60 per cent in Toronto, 18,000 or 70 per cent in Quebec, and 5,000 or 80 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. Together, these regions of high unemployment account for most of the post-recession increase in Canada’s temporary foreign work force. With the exception of Toronto as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, wages in these regions are below the national average.
So what does this story and the growth of this program mean for us in the literacy field?

Maybe this:
The biggest side effect of the rapid growth of the program might be eroded skills and training, said David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia, who believes the program may act as a disincentive for companies to offer on-the-job training, and for workers to ensure their skills are current.

“The most concerning thing has to be the implications for training,” he said. “The long-run implications are bad because we’re going to have a generation of young people who are looking at something that makes it harder for them to get the skills they need to get.”
Foreign workers program seen growing too big, too fast by Tavia Grant
The Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Apr. 08 2013, 7:00 PM EDT
"Canadian workers are being displaced, training is being ignored and the TFW program is becoming the first choice rather than a tool of last resort," said the Alberta Federation of Labour’s [Gil] McGowan.

Of course it also has implications about what kind of working conditions we might be training people for. 
The government’s policy of allowing employers to pay temporary foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage obviously undercuts prevailing wages. Because temporary foreign workers are beholden to their employers, they have little ability to assert their workplace rights or negotiate wage improvements.

An econometric study based on data through 2007 published last year in Canadian Public Policy concludes, “The expansion [of the Temporary Foreign Worker program] in Canada to all low-skill occupations without limit has had an adverse effect on the Canadian labour market.” There is reason to fear that adding more vulnerable workers to weak labour markets since 2008 has further worsened unemployment and undermined wages.
It's not just RBC. The foreign-worker program needs reining in by Erin Weir
The Globe and Mail, Published Tuesday, Apr. 09 2013

I find it encouraging that people are outraged about this and everyone is talking about the implications of paying certain classes of workers less than others and how outsourcing, offshoring and rural sourcing, nearsourcing etc., impact employment rates, the employability of certain workers and the working conditions for all groups of workers. Perhaps this is one of those watershed moments that wakes people up to a practice that has been hurting us all for a long time. It seems to make many people open to talking about worker protections in a way that has been rare in some circles lately. So maybe a little crack has opened up. 

As Erin Weir writes
RBC provides a particularly compelling example of why the Temporary Foreign Worker Program must be reined in. It should be limited to areas with demonstrable skill shortages.

Before importing temporary labour, employers should have to meet a much higher burden of proof that they cannot find Canadian workers. Those temporary foreign workers who are admitted should have a clear path to permanent residency and citizenship, so that they can fully contribute to our economy and exercise the same workplace rights as other Canadians.
Here is hoping...

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