Earlier this week, news broke that RBC plans to hire 45 temporary foreign workers through iGate, an IT contractor, to fill positions of employees who say that, in fact, they're training their own replacements.
RBC denies this, saying that no one will lose their jobs and that the Canadian employees will be moved to other departments.
In Alberta alone, 4,000 companies have been given approval to hire temporary foreign workers. Canada-wide, there are 338,000 temporary foreign workers.
Postmedia News walks you through the controversy:
WHAT IS A TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKER?
Immigration Canada defines a temporary foreign worker as "workers (who) enter Canada to work temporarily in jobs that help Canadian employers address skill shortages."
Temporary foreign workers would, in principle, fill jobs such as carpenters, fruit pickers or managers in communication. These are areas that Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) says are suffering skills shortages.
WHAT DID RBC DO THAT CAUSED CONTROVERSY?
The reason for the temporary foreign worker program is so that companies can go outside of Canada when there is a clear absence of Canadians to fill the positions.
In this case, critics say they were being brought in to replace positions that were already filled. The fact that several jobs will themselves eventually move offshore – outsourcing – further clouds the issue.
It is unclear whether or not any rules were broken. HRSDC has launched an official probe into the hiring.
WHY WOULD A COMPANY PREFER FOREIGN WORKERS?
Briefly, it's about wages. "You can actually pay these temporary foreign workers 15-per-cent less, you don't have to pay for a lot of the other benefits, and the employer has a power balance that gets even more skewed because the workers are so much more vulnerable than residents," argues Jinny Sims, the federal NDP's immigration critic.
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR HAVING TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS?
Under the true guidelines of the program, temporary foreign workers are seen as an aid to the economy.
"If, for instance, you run a cherry orchard, apparently it's very difficult to get Canadians to come and pick the cherries in the orchard," said Michael Hart, professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. "You can hire temporary workers from Mexico to do that."
"The biggest reason to support it is if there are particular shortages, this is a quick and dirty way to address those needs," added Sharry Aiken, law professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. "When there are very clear needs for the workers, there can be quite dramatic consequences if those jobs aren't filled."
William Watson, economics professor at McGill University in Montreal, said that "it's fair game for Canadian firms to play by the rules if that can cut their costs."
WHAT ARE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST USING TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS?
Some wonder if these workers are really necessary. Aren't they taking up jobs that Canadians can do?
"You can argue, if you are, say, a member of a labour union, that the guy who needs cherry-pickers from Mexico, if he paid a higher wage then Canadians would be willing to pick cherries," said Hart.
"Necessity is an interesting moral question. Economically, at the price that you have to pay in order to sell your cherries, you can't afford to pay $20 an hour."
"Particularly in cases where these are not temporary labour shortages – these are permanent labour shortages – why are we using a temporary foreign worker program to address what is in fact a permanent or chronic labour shortage?" said Aiken.
"It's more equitable if the workers are brought in with the view of becoming permanent residents."
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
The Alberta Federation of Labour is starting an inquiry into how 4,000 companies in that province received permission to hire temporary foreign workers. That's in addition to the HRSDC probe.
Changes will probably come to the temporary foreign workers program, but it won't go away.
The Vancouver Sun,Wednesday, Apr 10 2013
Byline: Karl Kofmel