April 9, 2013
Sunday's revelation that the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) will be
bringing in "temporary guest workers" to replace some of its Canadian
employees captured headlines, sparking outrage and surprise, and leading
many to threaten a bank boycott and move their accounts elsewhere.
The outrage is certainly understandable -- as one would think that RBC, with its more than $2 billion in first quarter profits, could afford to retain these workers -- but the surprise isn't.
Without being condescending, I have five words for those who greeted
this news with disbelief and shock: this is how capitalism works. Or,
as RBC CEO Gord Nixon recently wrote in a more sanitized and politically
correct manner, it simply falls in line with the bank’s dedicated
commitment to "operational effectiveness."
Before proceeding any further, it is important to inject into this
conversation -- which can quickly descend into xenophobia and
anti-immigrant sentiment, is that it is not the "temporary guest
workers" which are the problem -- it is solely government and corporate
policy which is at fault.
It was been recently confirmed that it was the federal government
which gave the nod to RBC's plans to shift towards the hiring of guest
workers by granting it a "positive labour market opinion."
The statements given by RBC CEO Gord Nixon and Human Resources and
Skills Development Canada Minister Diane Finley have both put forward a
particular policy loophole which might allow RBC to be let off the hook.
On paper, it was not RBC which arranged this change to temporary guest
workers; instead, that was done by a U.S. based staffing agency, known
as iGate, which, according to its website, specializes in "strategic outsourcing solutions" that help companies reduce costs.
Whether it is called "operational effectiveness" or "strategic
outsourcing," what is happening at RBC is not a new phenomenon, it is
that the attack on Canadian workers has grown confident enough to begin
attacking the jobs of information technology professionals.
years of the record low
Canadian dollar from the mid-1990s well into the 2000s. It has been the
ongoing policy of successive Canadian government to produce a flexible
(aka non-unionized and cheap) labour force.
Despite having both qualified workers and profitable production in
Canada, there has been an alarming erosion of manufacturing jobs -- with
federal government statistics revealing that between 2000-2007 there
was a loss of 278,000 manufacturing jobs. From October 2008 to October 2009 alone, there was a loss of 218,000 full time manufacturing positions.
The lack of organized public support from the non-unionized sectors
for those manufacturing workers who continue to face everyday threats of
outsourcing from profitable companies reveals a class bias which has
been deeply ingrained into Canadian society and politics that must
confronted. The problematic 'right to work' platform
of Tim Hudak reveals that the conservatives have calculated (one hopes
incorrectly) that a significant portion of Ontarians are in support of
anti-union initiatives and putting wages which support a middle class
standard of living out of reach.
In many ways, the growth of the "temporary guest worker" program is
giving a new face to the exploitation of marginalized groups for the
sake of maximizing already staggering corporate profits. In January it
was revealed that Canadian corporations are sitting on $500 billion
of corporate cash holdings -- but still continue to portray themselves
as being victims of discriminatory labour and environmental policies.
The recently passed Bill C-38
gutted Canada's environmental regulations, removing or reducing much
needed protections for water, air and wildlife in order to boost
The latest jobs report from Statistics Canada highlighted the
undeniable success of these regressive polices, revealing that
employment within the low wage food service was the fastest growing sector
in the Canadian economy. To add to the shedding of high paying
manufacturing jobs for low paying service jobs, in April 2012
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources Minister Diane
Finlay announced the implementation of a two-tier wage system which
would extend into the fast food service industries -- with "temporary
guest workers" being paid 15 per cent less
than Canadian citizens. These government policies have helped to put
downward pressure on the wages of Canadian workers across the board.
In a sign of the times, even corporate Canadian donut icon Tim
Horton's found itself in hot water, after being hit with a human rights
complaints due to the mistreatment and exploitation
their temporary guest workers. In the past it was the case that one's
race or gender would bring lower wages for doing equal work (and in many
cases it still does); now foreign workers are underpaid for doing the
exact same work that was once done by Canadians. For years Canada has
underpaid farm labourers from Latin America and the Caribbean, who pay
into benefit systems they are not entitled to, face dangerous working conditions and often live in substandard housing.
Hopefully the RBC outsourcing has just revealed to the public that
the labour flexibility policies pursued by the Canadian government seek
to spare no sector -- whether in manufacturing, mining or information
The Harper government is not interested in creating good jobs and
strengthening the Canadian middle and working class; it is solely
interested in maintaining record high corporate profits by further
deregulating labour and environmental policies.
If there is any chance of reversing this trend of attacking workers
by undercutting them at home and abroad, the outrage directed at RBC
should not be an isolated incident, but instead be replicated at every
single CEO and government enabler which seeks to bring about
"operational effectiveness" by shedding much needed jobs to further
bloat a very profitable bottom line.
If this is not the case, we can only expect more of the same to be on
the way once the federal government finalizes and implements the
Canada-China and Canada-EU free trade agreements.
Kevin Edmonds is a writer and activist based in Toronto.