RBC chief 'listening' after foreign worker controversy

The head of the Royal Bank of Canada said the company should have been "more sensitive" to workers affected by their outsourcing arrangements and is promising "comparable job opportunities" within the bank, just days after a CBC News report on Canadians losing jobs to workers outside the country.

Harper will 'bringing forward reforms' to temporary foreign worker program

Royal Bank of Canada CEO Gord Nixon says all employees affected by a recent move to outsource their jobs will be offered 'comparable job opportunities' within the bank.

The head of the Royal Bank of Canada says the company should have been "more sensitive" to workers affected by their outsourcing arrangements and is promising "comparable job opportunities" within the bank, just days after a CBC News report on Canadians losing jobs to workers outside the country.

The letter from CEO and president Gord Nixon comes after CBC News reported in a Go Public feature that dozens of employees at Canada’s largest bank were losing their jobs to temporary foreign workers, who are in Canada to take over the work of their department.

In the letter released Thursday, Nixon said RBC is reviewing its relationships with suppliers and its policies "with a continued focus on Canadian jobs and prosperity, balancing our desire to be both a successful business and a leading corporate citizen."

The bank is taking out ads in newspapers across the country on Friday to apologize to any employee affected by "outsourcing." Nowhere in the letter does the CEO specifically mention foreign workers doing jobs in Canada. 

"While we are compliant with the regulations, the debate has been about something else," Nixon wrote.

"The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require —it's about doing what employees, clients, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC. And that's something we take very much to heart."

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"Despite our best efforts, we don't always meet everyone's expectations, and when we get it wrong, you are quick to tell us. You have my assurance that I'm listening."

A spokesperson for Minister of Human Resources and Skills Deveopment Diane Finley said in an emailed statement: "We think RBC has done the right thing by apologizing."

Harper says 'reforms' to program coming

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, taking questions Thursday afternoon at an event in Calgary, said that his government was "clear in the budget we recently tabled that we are going to be bringing forward reforms to the temporary foreign worker program."

Foreign Workers at CBC

The CBC has on occasion applied to HRSDC to hire individuals with specialized skills, on a short-term, freelance basis, for specific programs or projects.

In the past 12 months, the CBC has used six such freelancers.

Three U.S. commentators were used as analysts for golf and figure skating coverage. As well, three U.S. residents were hired for the CBC's production of the Canadian Country Music Awards to operate specialized equipment. They were brought in by a third party production company to produce the show for one weekend.

The CBC doesn't currently have any temporary foreign workers on our payroll.

"We are obviously concerned about some particular stories that have surfaced," Harper said.

"I'm not going to comment on those, but I can tell you we certainly have been looking into those and other cases like them and we will be in very short order bringing in a series of reforms that we have been developing to make sure this program is serving its purpose."

Harper went on to say that in Canada, particularly in a province like Alberta, there are some occupations dealing with "an absolute labour shortage and certain employers need to find workers from outside the country."

"But this is not supposed to have a purpose beyond that and we will make sure it is not used for purposes beyond that."

Canadian workers 'inundated' with job interviews

Apparently Nixon's promise to help those Canadian workers is coming to fruition. Dave Moreau, one of the Canadians affected by RBC's foreign worker hirings, sent an email to CBC on Thursday saying the public firestorm has benefited him and colleagues who were facing replacement.

"The results have been stupendous for all of us here at RBC," he wrote. "Our group is now being inundated with job interviews within the company."

Earlier this week, Moreau said he applied for 14 jobs within RBC and had been told he's not suited for two of them. He was waiting to hear back about the rest.

The foreign workers who are supposed to be taking over the RBC positions in Toronto are employed by a multinational outsourcing firm from India – iGATE Corp. – which has a contract to provide IT services. There is an "RBC Offshore Development Centre" in the iGATE facility in Bangalore.

In the CBC report, RBC spokeswoman Rina Cortese said several foreign workers from iGATE will be working in the bank’s Toronto offices until 2015. By then, she said, most of the work will be transferred abroad, but a few of the foreigners will remain indefinitely.

Bank claimed 'full compliance' with federal laws

However, it's against federal rules for any company to bring foreign workers into Canada temporarily if it will put citizens out of work.

"The rules are very clear. You cannot displace Canadians to hire people from abroad,"  Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CBC News Go Public.

RBC employee Dave Moreau says the temporary workers didn't appear to have any special skills. (CBC )

In response, the bank released a statement saying the employees were being outsourced for cost savings and efficiency.

"External suppliers with the right skills allow us to introduce new efficiencies, continually improve our service at reduced cost and reinvest in initiatives that enhance the client experience," a statement from the bank read. "Agreements with our suppliers include strict controls and ongoing monitoring to ensure full compliance with all regulatory requirements."

When Go Public asked whether the company had told federal authorities that Canadian jobs would end when iGATE temporary foreign workers were brought in to work, Go Public did not receive a direct answer.

iGATE's history

iGATE, a company with offices around the world, including Mississauga and Toronto, has been in trouble before over foreign worker hirings.

In 2008, the company paid $45,000 to settle charges by the U.S. Department of Justice for discriminating against American citizens. iGATE was advertising jobs in the U.S. for foreign workers — effectively saying Americans need not apply.

iGATE spokesman Prabhanjan Deshpande told CBC the company is operating within the law: "For any engagement requiring foreign workers, appropriate immigration applications are filed by iGATE and all work authorizations are properly issued under existing law and policy."

The company said its foreign workforce enter Canada through the federal government's temporary foreign worker program, and under intra-company transfer visas.

Moreau said the iGATE workers don’t appear to have any special skills not possessed by Canadians.

"The person who is replacing me has asked a lot of questions and doesn’t know a major portion of the type of systems that we are working with," said Moreau. .

Other RBC workers who spoke to CBC on condition of anonymity said they were not offered jobs with iGATE and were told the "realignment" might expand to affect more of the bank’s 57,500 employees in Canada.

"We were told this is almost like a pilot project," one unnamed employee said.