Min Sook Lee describes the multimedia installation she helped to curate, Milagros for Migrants, as "an organic meeting of two artistic practices." We're having lunch at Oakham House Cafe on the campus of Ryerson University, where the exhibit is housed. To her left sits her artistic collaborator and academic advisor, Deborah Barndt. While we wait for salads, Barndt tells me that they have worked together in the past on similar projects, and have overlapping interests when it comes to academia and activism.
"We have a common passion for art and politics and thinking about how art can be used to educate and organize around migrant worker justice. I've done a lot of work around labour in the food system over the years," she says.
There has been much bristling over the Royal Bank of Canada's recent move to replace 50 Canadian employees with temporary foreign workers. Yes Canada’s largest bank, with profits in excess of $7 billion, was caught sending Canadian jobs overseas in order to save a few bucks.
But I for one will say that critics have rushed to judgment far too quickly. Their mistake? Forgetting that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program reaches back to the very roots of Canada -- to our national DNA if you will.
A proud part of our history
When IT worker Dave Moreau went public about the fact that the largest bank in Canada was firing him and 44 of his RBC colleagues while bringing in temporary workers from another country to learn their jobs, he blew the lid off a program hidden in plain sight.
Since coming to office in 2006, the Conservatives have massively expanded the pipeline that brings workers from around the world who often toil for less money and endure little to no meaningful workplace protections or human rights.
The Royal Bank of Canada has now apologized for displacing Canadian workers following the whistle blowing by an IT specialist which revealed the plan to replace some 50 Canada-based RBC workers with outsourced work via temporary migrant workers. But the issue is ongoing and beyond RBC. Canadian banks and other employers have been importing temporary migrant IT workers for various projects for some time, and they will continue to do so -- likely with ample support of governments.
I first learned of the use of temporary migrant IT workers in Canadian banks from a Toronto-based bank IT worker back in October 2012, when I was presenting on temporary labour migration at the Academics Stand Against Poverty Conference at Ryerson University.
Once again the temporary foreign worker program has erupted in controversy where it is being used to pit workers against each other.
News reports point out that the Royal Bank of Canada has decided to move its information technology department abroad. To do so, it has brought in temporary workers from India that will learn the ropes from their Canadian counterparts. Following this training, the Canadian workers will be laid off, and the Indian workers will transition the IT department to India and return there.