Over the weekend news broke about 45 RBC employees being laid off and replaced by migrant workers on temporary visas. The migrant workers are being hired by iGate, an outsourcing company with a contract with RBC for IT services. The federal government has responded stating that it is investigating, since migrant workers are only supposed to be hired when there are labour shortages. RBC’s only response so far has been that it did not hire any migrant workers, and that the outsourced employees will be offered other work within the company.
The case has ignited a media storm with many asking why migrant workers are replacing Canadian workers when there is clearly no shortage of workers in this example. But what’s the bigger picture behind this story?
To understand the bigger picture we need to look at federal immigration policy that has expanded temporary work programs in all sectors – creating a temporary workforce with little protection and that is often tied to one employer with no access to citizenship. Last year the federal government passed regulations that allow employers to pay migrant workers 15% less. It’s no surprise then that companies want to hire migrant workers at less cost and who have very little protection to speak out.
Just last week the Law Commission of Ontario highlighted the difficult and often dangerous working conditions facing migrant workers and called for expanded protection – including protection against unilateral repatriation and exorbitant recruitment fees. The Law Commission also highlighted how the increasing practice of contracting out work makes it more difficult to enforce employment standards.
So how can RBC say they have not hired any migrant workers? Well, that’s an important part of this story too. Large companies can hide behind contracting out – whether that be IT services, cleaning, tele-marketing or even basic office tasks. Contracting out this work to temp agencies and sub-contractors drives workers wages down and removes responsibility for conditions from the company at the top of the chain.
Many workers in Ontario are dealing with the impact of large corporations using subcontractors to hide practices that circumvent the law. Many workers we talk to at WAC are let go when companies contract out to temp agencies and sub-contractors and those job losses are devastating.
As Chris Ramsaroop and Syed Hussan write, we need to be cautious not to make this a story about migrant workers vs. Canadians. We need to examine the larger forces that are setting up these kinds of working conditions. They write: “this is the time for a national conversation on immigration, unemployment, work and access to benefits and entitlements. A conversation that aims to ensure that all people are able to live with dignity rather than being pitted against each other.”
We need to make sure that everyone working in Canada has strong protection, decent wages and benefits and that workers are not used against each other to drive down wages and standards on the job.