A McMaster student's disdain over The Royal Bank's hiring practices is quickly picking up steam online.

McMaster University student Jennifer Ridge was one of the first Facebook users to join the "Boycott Royal Bank Of Canada" page after news broke that the company has been employing foreign workers to replace Canadian staff. Now she's an administrator who is constantly updating and promoting the page. The group has ballooned from 300 users to more than 3,000 virtually overnight.

"When the story broke, the first thing I did was look for a Facebook group. If there hadn't been one already — I would have started one myself," the student told CBC Hamilton in an email.

"Social media is becoming a powerful tool for activists and raising awareness," Ridge said. "I wanted to help facilitate the PR nightmare that RBC is currently dealing with in an attempt to raise awareness about this disturbing trend."

'No one's opposed to workers coming to this country, but not the way they're doing it.'—USW National Director Ken Neuman

Dozens of employees at Canada's largest bank are losing their jobs to temporary foreign staff who are in Canada to take over the work of the RBC department.

"They are being brought in from India, and I am wondering how they got work visas," said Dave Moreau, one of the employees affected by the move. "The new people are in our offices and we are training them to do our jobs. That adds insult to injury."

Moreau, who works in IT systems support, said he is one of 50 employees who facilitate various transactions for RBC Investor Services in Toronto, which serves the bank's biggest and wealthiest institutional clients.

In February, RBC told Moreau and his colleagues that 45 of the jobs with the regulatory and financial applications team would be terminated at the end of April.

"There are a lot of angry people," Moreau told CBC's Go Public. "A lot those people are in their late 50s or early 60s. They are not quite ready for retirement yet, but it may be very difficult to employ them."

Furious community response

The online response denouncing the news has been swift and angry. RBC was trending on Twitter in Canada Sunday afternoon.

"Bad move (at)RBC I've been thinking about switching, thanks for making decision easy for me," tweeted one man.

"What is wrong with you (at)RBC-Canada," tweeted another. "Making Canadians lose their jobs ... I will switch banks, if not corrected."

Ridge, who is in the process of moving all of her accounts out of RBC to another bank, told CBC Hamilton that she isn't surprised the backlash has been so intense.

"People have had enough. Our government is selling out our futures to big oil and big banks," she said. "55,000 jobs lost in the Canadian economy this month alone and RBC makes $1.9 billion in their last quarter — I knew that would get a lot of people going."

In late February, RBC reported a first-quarter profit of $2.07 billion, or $1.36 per share, up from $1.86 billion or $1.23 a share a year ago.

Its revenue grew to $7.91 billion, from $7.57 billion a year earlier

"We are giving all these tax breaks to big businesses for what? So they can create jobs for foreign workers and allow business to continue to make record-breaking profits at our expense?" Ridge asked. "It's exploitive to the foreign workers and insulting to Canadians."

'Finding suitable roles'

RBC has been scrambling to explain its hiring practices to customers.

Canada's largest bank said it has not hired foreign workers to take over the job functions of current employees, but said it uses outside companies as one of its strategies to improve "operational effectiveness."

Moreau says he and the other employees are being made to train the new workers who will be taking their jobs.

Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer, said the company is working to find suitable roles for 45 Toronto employees whose jobs are being outsourced.

"RBC is not hiring new employees that are temporary foreign workers to do that work," she said in a phone interview, noting that those who will take on the work "are going to be the supplier's employees."

But Ridge says that response rings hollow.

The foreign workers are employed by iGate Corp, a multinational outsourcing firm. The company's website says it has offices that provide services for RBC in India. The company's website also indicates it provides services for TD Bank and Pratt and Whitney Canada, among other international clients.

"RBC is essentially saying that they aren't directly hiring foreign workers to replace Canadian jobs — they just hired iGATE, an American company with a bad track record, who hires foreign workers to replace the Canadian jobs," Ridge said. "RBC calls them 'suppliers.' People see through that. We aren't stupid. We are pissed off."

USW calls for overhaul of foreign worker program

Meanwhile, the United Steel Workers, which was among those voicing its disapproval of RBC, said the entire temporary foreign worker program, and the government's handling of it, need to change.

"They have to re-look at this entire program and do it right. No one's opposed to workers coming to this country, but not the way they're doing it, not the way they're treating people," said USW National Director Ken Neuman.

"If you're going to bring workers to this country, if they're good enough to work here, our position is they should also be able to transition and become permanent residents."

The USW added that it was ready to assist RBC workers and represent them in legal matters as needed.

In 2012, there were more than 213,000 foreign workers in Canada, compared with more than 160,000 immigrants who arrived under the federal skilled worker program.

The rapid growth of the temporary foreign worker program has raised concerns that Canadian companies are filling job vacancies with cheaper workers from overseas rather than actively finding Canadians to fill the jobs.

Much of the government's latest budget, released in March, focused on reversing that trend, with millions allocated for training and job creation programs.

At the same time, the government is continuing to overhaul the temporary foreign worker program.

The changes were prompted in part by a continuing controversy in B.C. surrounding a mining firm allowed to bring in foreign labour after insisting that a requirement to speak Mandarin meant it couldn't find Canadians to fill the jobs.

The government said that's no longer going to be an excuse, and added that employers will have to advertise longer and farther across the country to find Canadians to fill jobs before looking overseas.