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In Harmonium

Being in the main the musings of a Symbolic Anthropologist

Back to the “good old days” of economic serfdom

Posted By on April 12, 2013

A series of recent stories by CBC.ca’s Go Public is providing some intriguing detail on how Canadian banks are, one would assume inadvertently, supporting the practice of economic serfdom or debt bondage while, at the same time, firing Canadians.  Needless to say, this has caused a PR nightmare.

In a new twist to the older, but still sordid, practice of offshore outsourcing and using temporary foreign workers to replace Canadians, CBC is reporting that, according to several of these workers, they were forced to cycle back to India, where their pay went from $63,000 / year to $12,000 / year.  The company that “supplied” these workers, however, still received the same pay for their work, regardless of whether they were in Canada or India.

Now, this is more than somewhat shady, at least according to Canadian law, but it doesn’t really highlight the “new” twist in all of this.  According to CBC’s interviews,

The iGATE workers who spoke to Go Public said they lived with the threat of having to pay a stiff fine if they tried to resist going back to India when they were ordered to.

The company would require a family member to co-sign and if they didn’t return to India, the family member would have to pay.

They said their contracts also barred them from applying for permanent residency in Canada. If they breached that, they or their family member in India would owe the company the equivalent of $6,000.

And that is the twist that, technically, makes this a form of debt bondage.

While this might seem like just another twist in the marketplace, there are several concerns that have not yet been voiced that are nagging at the back of my brain.

To start with, these were IT workers operating, according to CBC’s investigation, in every Canadian bank.  In effect, this means that priviledged and secure access to the Canadian banking system is available to an organization that is already engaged in activities that are, according to some people interviewed by CBC, illegal and if not illegal, then certainly extremely mercenary.

Do we really wish to encourage a situation where large components of our financial system are wide open to an organization that engages in such practices?  To my mind, this is not only an issue of whether or not iGATE has priviledged access to our financial system – it obviously does – but, rather, whether or not a foreign company that does not operate with Canada’s best interests should have the capability of attacking our financial infrastructure.

They have, at least according to the CBC reports, shown that they are willing to breach Canadian laws for profit.  One has to wonder what they would do if some other foreign entity offered them a large enough amount of money to electronically infiltrate our financial infrastructure.  This is a question of national security.

A second point to bear in mind is the tactics that iGATE appears to be using with its workers.  Whether or not they are actually illegal under Canadian laws, and they appear to be, one has to be concerned with actions such as

The men said they were among a group of approximately 200 Indian nationals shuttled back and forth between Canada and India, while doing work for Canada’s largest bank between 2008 and 2012.

“That threat is always there, so in a way you will not be able to even concentrate on your work.”

One of the workers said, at one point, he and his family were forced to get on a plane to India with little notice, right after his wife had given birth.

“That manager was very blunt and rude, he didn’t even give me much time to explain,” he said.

For better or worse, Canada has been following a policy of encouraging immigration by highly skilled workers.  Without getting into the ins-and-outs of that decision we, as a nation, have gone out of our way to help qualified people to immigrate.  This policy is, apparently, being deliberately attacked by the actions of iGATE according to Richard Kurland a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer.

“Punishment for legally applying for permanent residency after a couple of years is off the scale and it’s unenforceable in a Canadian court of law,” said Kurland.

He said temporary foreign workers have the legal right to apply for permanent resident status after being in Canada a minimum of one year.

“A contract that in effect indentures a human being abroad [family member] based on the performance of the foreign worker in Canada is scandalous,” said Kurland.

So, we have one (or more) foreign companies with priviledged access to our financial system who are not only acting in a manner that is, at best, described as “mercenary”, we also have a systematic history of this organization in opposing Canadian policy and by-passing Canadian law.

Don’t you feel safer now?


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