Tough times bring out the best in people – or the worst. The recent brouhaha over the hiring practices of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) should surely tell us that we are just as parochial as everybody else, although we like to be known as an open nation, with our largest city being the multicultural capital of the world. RBC’s travail is even more ironic because its CEO and president Gordon Nixon is the toast of this country’s multicultural industry, with his bank having won the “best diversity employer” award many times over.
Let’s be clear: this storm was not about offshoring or high unemployment or even the lingering effects of the global recession in Canada. It was raw emotion. The RBC employee who blew the whistle must be given credit for identifying a storyline that resonated with Canadians from coast to coast: She or he was upset because they were being asked to train their replacements, who happened to be from India. For most Canadians, that was inhumane and insensitive, although it would have been hardly the first time a large corporation resorted to this sort of phased transition.
And, look at the fallout. Canada’s corporate champion for diversity was forced to climb down after initially defending his bank: “The question for many people is not about doing only what the rules require – it’s about doing what employees, shareholders and Canadians expect of RBC.” Nowhere does the letter make clear how exactly the bank fell short of expectations, but by then it was no longer a rational discourse; it was laden with emotion.
Here’s a typical example of the sort of venting that was directed at the RBC: “M____ and I, and our four sons, have been having serious discussions about this story almost daily. This story will, in some ways, change the course of our dealings with RBC … [Your] hiring/layoffs approach has tainted/damaged the reputation of the Royal Bank of CANADA (emphasis in original)! Not very Canadian, in my view!”
By all accounts, the reaction was both visceral and unanimous. Virtually nobody dared stand up and say, “This happens all the time; why are we making such a big deal? As a small trading nation, don’t we need to compete globally for goods and services?”
Why does this happen? Why can’t we pause and think rationally in the midst of these manufactured crises?
Part of the answer is happenstance. Many different elements just happened to come together to cook up what we in the media refer to as a “perfect storm.” A large bank which made $7.5 billion in profits last year was retrenching 45 employees using a ‘backdoor route’ to hire a smaller number of foreign workers through an Indian company that seemed to be a bit too cozy with the Canadian bank. The RBC employees were in the middle of training the very same “foreigners” who were rendering them jobless. It didn’t matter that Indians have developed something of a global reputation as the world’s favourite backroom office and that their IT professionals have been deployed to virtually every nation on earth. India has also consistently ranked No. 2 on the list of immigrant source nations for Canada.
We are optimistic that something good will come of this national outburst. Nixon’s full-court apology in an “Open Letter to Canadians” should cool things for the bank. Similarly, a long-overdue review of the Temporary Worker Program should bring down the number of short-term foreign labour from the insanely-high figure of 300,000. Clearly, this program has been abused if Tim Hortons is hiring abroad, at a time when there are about 1.4 million jobless Canadians. The government should be more rigorous when companies claim they can’t find Canadians to fill jobs and there is no excuse to allow a 15 per cent difference in what will be paid to foreign workers: there should be pay parity.
Above all, we need more creative HR professionals who are willing to groom and train the next generation of Canadian workers, whether they be native-born or immigrant. Our immigration policy is based on meeting the future demands of the Canadian workplace. Corporate hiring managers should be expected to do more than finding round pegs to fill round holes. We should never again have a situation when there are 1.4 million unemployed and 300,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada. – New Canadian Media