Robyn Benson, PSAC

Cheap labour games [updated]

RBC economic treason.JPG

The latest Royal Bank of Canada scandal is chock full o’ lessons for us all. Corporations don’t just make and sell ever-cheaper products in their endless pursuit of profit. They cheapen and devalue people as well.

This isn’t about foreigners, them versus us. Working people are all on the same side, or should be. The trouble begins when we let that other “them”—corporate power and its political cover—divide us.

So let’s avoid that trap. The workers who are brought into Canada under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, to work at 15% below average wage thanks to the Harper government, are not our enemy. They are being bought and sold on the market, a gift of cheap labour to Canadian business.

“Flexibility” is the watchword—a reserve army of temporary, low-paid workers replacing those with permanent, stable jobs. Why should we be surprised? An entire parallel public service has been built by the Harper administration on precisely that principle.

“They look like government employees, but they’re not,” [economist David Macdonald] said. They are exempt from the government’s normal hiring requirements such as bilingualism and proven ability to do the job. And they aren’t on the government payroll; their remuneration comes from a private outsourcing firm (which usually means they have no job security or benefits).

Sound familiar? Whether temporary foreign workers or temporary Canadian workers, they’re all being treated as a cheap, exploitable resource.

A Chinese-owned mine in BC plans to import its “temporary” labour force from China, claiming that there are no Canadian workers qualified to do the “specialized” work involved.

As for the RBC, “the key message to everyone was that offshoring was not about job cuts. It was about augmenting our workforce in a flexible way,” says Marjorie Mong, vice president, head of Application Services at RBC. A more classic example of Orwellian doublespeak would be hard to find.

45 workers must now train their cheaper replacements. Once again, it’s under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Now the RBC ploy has been exposed to the full light of day, of course, and outrage is building, the government is making harrumphing noises. But don’t expect too much to change—given that Ottawa approved this shoddy deal in the first place.

Meanwhile the RBC hasn’t learned how to stop digging when they’re in a hole.

The bank released a statement on Sunday claiming that they weren’t replacing Canadians with temporary foreign workers. They were just relieving Canadians of their positions of employment and hiring a company, iGATE Corp., to do jobs instead. Is it their fault if iGATE hires temporary foreign workers to fill the positions?

Hey, I didn’t kill anyone! I just hired the hitman.

When it comes to shady corporate doings, the RBC has a bit of a past. But they’re doing just fine. The bank posted a record profit of $7.5 billion last year, up 17% from 2011. The shareholders got a 22% return on investment. And RBC head Gordon Nixon made $12.6 million last year, 25% more than the year before—40 times the salary of the Prime Minister, 33 times that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada—and 274 times the average Canadian wage.

In a bit of unacceptable irony, the man who is ultimately responsible for a scheme to deprive Canadians of their jobs is currently Chair of the Ontario government’s Jobs and Prosperity Council.

His prosperity, certainly, but it’s austerity for ordinary working Canadians—and for the cannon fodder imported into Canada to work for less.

[Illustration credit]

UPDATE: While Gord Nixon apologizes, the Temporary Foreign Workers program is now revealed to be massive in scope—338,189 workers at last count, having tripled over the last ten years.

One example of how the TFW program is running: out-of-work Canadian pilots are being passed over for cheaper imported ones. But, as was likely the case with RBC, adverse publicity is forcing at least one airlines operator, Stephen Rowe of CanJet, to re-think his hiring policies and ensure Canadian pilots are eligible in the future. “It’s becoming a sensitive issue,” he says. You think?

And remember that “shadow public service” I mentioned? While Harper is now promising to reform the TFW, it turns out that federal departments and Crown corporations are making good use of it. Health Canada, Canadian Forces/Department of National Defence, Canada Post, the CBC, Canada Lands, the Bank of Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Canadian Museum of Civilization are all employing temporary foreign workers—closing the cheap labour circle.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on April 12, 2013 4:57 PM.

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