Ottawa admits it approved request for migrant workers at RBC

How an overseas outsourcing firm managed to get Ottawa’s nod to bring in foreign workers to replace 45 Canadian employees at the Royal Bank has become the centre of an official probe.

On Monday, the federal government confirmed iGate, based in Fremont, Calif., was granted a positive labour market opinion (LMO), which is supposed to be issued only when an assessment determines the hiring will not take jobs away from available and qualified Canadians.

While it is not clear if the temporary foreign workers from India have been working and reporting directly to RBC or iGate, the affected bank employees said they have been asked to train their replacements.

“If these workers were brought to Canada on LMO-based work permits, then either the employer may not have been fully straightforward with Service Canada about their plans, or someone at Service Canada might have been asleep at the wheel,” said Toronto lawyer Chantal Desloges, who has helped guide corporate clients through the LMO process.

“Service Canada would have approved the LMOs based on the fact that iGate is the employer. If the de facto employer at some point became RBC then this could be a compliance issue with the terms of the LMOs and the work permits as well.”

The office of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Minister Diane Finley said the department launched the probe late last week after media inquiries.

Alyson Queen, Finley’s spokesperson, refused to reveal further details or comment on how long the probe would take and if the foreign workers’ LMOs and work permits will be cancelled.

“HRSDC officials are currently reviewing the labour market opinions submitted by iGate in great detail, based on apparent discrepancies between RBC’s public statement and information which has previously been provided to the government,” Queen said in an email.

RBC did not respond to an interview request Monday, but CEO Gord Nixon assured in an internal memo late Sunday the bank has not hired temporary foreign workers to take over jobs done by of its own employees.

“We have a contract with a vendor to support specific technology requirements, which impacts approximately 45 employees,” he wrote to staff.

“In keeping with standard business practices, when transitioning activities, our vendor has temporarily assigned a number of their employees onsite at RBC . . . with a small number remaining on a go-forward basis.”

Desloges said an employer is defined as the one that dictates the working conditions and terms of employment, and Ottawa must determine who the real employer is in this case.

“If iGate represented to Service Canada that they were the employer, but then they have simply acted as a placement agency for workers to work at RBC, this is also problematic,” she said.

Critics said the exponential growth of migrant workers in Canada has become a trend than an exception.

“If their hand is caught dirty, they’d say it wasn’t me who signed the contract that ended up displacing Canadian workers who’re costing me too much,” said Karl Flecker of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Ottawa’s new policy last April to allow employers to pay foreign temp workers 15 per cent less than the prevailing wage simply offers an incentive for employers to replace Canadian workers with migrants, he added.

In January, HD Mining International Ltd. of Vancouver said it would send its 16 Chinese temporary workers home after two local unions filed suits in court over the work permits the company received to bring in more than 200 workers to Canada.

Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman, who represents the unions, said the big issue with the temporary foreign worker program is its lacking oversight.

“There is nothing to prevent a Canadian company from applying for LMOs,” said Waldman.

Despite a promise by RBC to identify positions for affected staff within the organization, employment lawyer Daniel Lublin, who has been approached by a couple of the affected employees, remains doubtful of the prospects.

“Most banks will say that they’ll attempt to find you a job internally. Very few people find comparable employment within the employer. Most of them are ultimately terminated,” he told the Star.

“The reality is the people I met with are older, extraordinarily long-term employees, only a few years away from retirement, who are unlikely to ever find re-employment in the Canadian marketplace.”

Torstar News