RBC listens to unions after they threatened to pull $1 billion for outsourcing work

When unions talk, it seems at least one big bank will go to great lengths to listen.

Gordon Nixon, chief executive of the Royal Bank, flew from Toronto to Vancouver last week to meet with union officials representing more $4 billion worth of assets invested and managed through the bank’s financial services.

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The country’s biggest bank found itself in the middle of a national firestorm earlier this month when employees in Toronto complained that they were being replaced by temporary foreign workers brought into Canada for training. Nixon publicly apologized two weeks ago.

A group of B.C. unions sent a notice to the Royal Bank warning they were considering pulling more than $1 billion of investments because they are unhappy with the bank’s outsourcing and use of foreign workers.

Nixon phoned Lee Loftus, business manager with Local 118 of the B.C. Insulators Union, and the two spent 40 minutes discussing the matter. “It’s not that often that I get phone calls from CEOs from major banks in North America,” Loftus said.

By the April 17 meeting, the number of unions at the table had increased and the value of bank-managed assets grew to over $4 billion, said Loftus. “He offered to come out and meet with individuals in the labour movement here in B.C., so I took him up on the invitation,” said Loftus, who is also president of the B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council.

A total of six union officials were at the table representing the B.C. Federation of Labour, the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Operating Engineers and the Building Trades.

Nixon told them that RBC is conducting a review and crafting a code of conduct to ensure proper business practices are in place, Loftus said. He appeared “genuinely concerned” about the use of outsourcing and temporary foreign workers, Loftus said.

Unions sent the message that the “use of temporary foreign workers to replace Canadians was unacceptable,” Loftus said.

Loftus said the unions also stressed that “if you are outsourcing ultimately to see that [work] going offshore, then that is not acceptable and we want to see that stopped if you want to continue to manage our money. [Nixon] clearly understood that.”

Loftus said that Nixon, “made a point of us understanding that his call centres are all in Canada and will remain in Canada.”

A further meeting is expected in upcoming weeks, Loftus said. The bank wants the unions to view RBC’s planned code of conduct. “He certainly wanted to be transparent and provide an opportunity [for us] to view it before it was made public.”

Loftus is especially pleased that Nixon would take this matter and bring it before the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which is chaired by John Manley. Manley is a former deputy prime minister and his cabinet posts have included finance and industry. The council represents top executives in the country’s leading industries.

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