The union representing Greater Victoria electrical workers is threatening to pull millions of dollars out of the Royal Bank of Canada to protest the bank’s outsourcing of jobs.
It’s part of an angry backlash across the country against Canada’s largest bank’s use of temporary foreign workers.
The federations of labour in B.C. and Alberta called Tuesday for a moratorium and federal review of the temporary foreign worker program.
“It’s out of control,” said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. federation. “It’s being abused and misused across the country.”
Labour Market Opinions — documents that show the need for a foreign worker to fill a job because a Canadian is not available — and work permits are being “given out like candy,” Sinclair said.
“You can’t have 70,000 [temporary foreign workers] in the province and have an unemployment rate at seven per cent and not assume that some of those folks are not doing jobs that other people should be doing,” he said.
Alberta federation president Gil McGowan said Labour Market Opinions have been “rubber-stamped in as little as 10 days, and the vast majority aren’t subjected to any kind of review.”
In Victoria, the executive board of Local 230 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has raised concerns that RBC contracted a multinational company called iGate to deliver technology services, costing 45 Toronto workers their jobs.
Local 230 business manager Phil Venoit said members are not opposed to the temporary foreign workers but are concerned the program is being abused. Local 230, which has banked with RBC for more than 50 years, is looking at moving its money, he said.
Unless the RBC starts “putting people before excessive profits, then not only will our union be withdrawing our funds, we will be urging our members, the Canadian working class who care about the economic future of our country, to no longer darken their door as well,” Venoit said.
“There are plenty of banking institutions out there that would be happy to receive our money.”
Union holdings are in the millions of dollars, but Venoit would not be more specific. Money is banked for expenses such as industry training, a strike fund, bursaries and office expenses.
Increasingly, temporary foreign workers, who can earn 15 per cent less than Canadians, are found in a variety of jobs including fast-food and other restaurants, the hospitality industry, construction and mining, Sinclair said. These are short-term, temporary jobs, not full-time, permanent jobs.
Foreign workers are here not because B.C. is without available or skilled workers, Sinclair said.
“It has become the option, the first-choice by employers in some sectors, not the last resort.”
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said many small- and medium-size employers need temporary foreign workers to fill jobs.
The need is most pressing in Western Canada and in rural communities across the country, he said.
RBC has maintained it has not hired temporary foreign workers to take over duties of current employees, but that it has contracted iGate to provide technology services. The federal government is investigating.
IGate said it will co-operate with the investigation. Company spokesman Jason Trussell said iGate’s hiring practices are in “full compliance with all Canadian laws.”
— With files from The Canadian Press
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