Sunday, 7 April 2013

RBC Temporary Foreign Worker WTF

RBC has found itself the center of a employment controversy thanks to this article by the CBC.

My Twitter feed exploded this morning over the replacing domestic Canadian jobs with foreigners working on a Visa. The article quotes Dave Moreau, who works in IT systems support as one of the displaced workers. This alarmed me immediately as "IT Systems Support" is how I earn my living. Nothing like the concept that you are replaceable with just anybody from anywhere in the world to get the alarm bells ringing.

But the more I pondered the implications of this story, the more questions it raised. Up until now, all of the focus has been on the Foreign Worker concept. But there is another word being used, one that is just as important. That word is "temporary". Remove "Foreign" from the description, and what we have is permanent employees being replaced with temps. That, unfortunately, is not that unusual a story. Replacing long-term full-time employees with cheap contract temporary employees is a long-standing practice. But it does shed a different perspective on this story.

The whole purpose of this move is obviously a cost-cutting exercise. But the long-term goals here are murky. Not that I have ever managed a business, but I assume the whole transition of employees from permanent to temporary is part of a plan to eliminate those positions entirely. The temporary workers are used as a stop-gap transitional step.

**Quick aside. This is one aspect of journalistic reporting that really annoys me. The story by the CBC quickly goes to the sensational components of how this is affecting individual employees. It doesn't raise or follow the logical questions that arise from this move by RBC. There's lots of data, but very little information, which means everyone is wildly speculating.

One of the skills that RBC is throwing away is institutional skills that the employees have gained over the years. These skills are the soft, but hugely important skills that make employees valuable. When implementing or supporting IT systems, often any expert in an area will know how a particular technology works. But only employees know why a technology was chosen, how that technology is used, its overall importance to the organisation and how it interacts with other systems. There's institutional knowledge required, and it's that skill that takes any technology installation through to implementation and wide use. Any IT nerd can install a system, but only members of a team can implement it and integrate it into the company and its culture.

This is the area that is often overlooked by number crunchers that look at reducing headcount. So maybe it is just a short-sighted cost-cutting exercise that will do more to hurt RBC than it will help them save money. But this is just not sitting right with me. If you're reducing headcount, why would you bother with the hassle of foreign temporary workers? There's tons of young skilled Canadians willing to work for minimum wage, even if it is only a temp job. Any job is better than no job, especially when you need to upgrade or work on your skills. Maybe this is just another case of "never ascribe to a wider conspiracy what stupidity and short-sightedness can accomplish on its own." Maybe this is just an experiment where the problems will eventually outweigh the purported benefits.

But it would be really nice of the follow-up to this story dug a little deeper into that, wouldn't it?


Anonymous said...

My read of the story is that the temporary foreign workers are being trained on RBC's systems so that IT support can be offshored to Bangalore, India. A few TFWs would remain in Canada as an interface with the iGate team in India.

Catelli said...

That makes sense. Thanks for the comment!

Juls said...

He who hires the hit man is just as guilty as he how does the hit so RBC saying that this is just another service provider is a bit slimy. Also, my financial information is now going overseas and two -