Call cen­tre clo­sure leaves hun­dreds job­less

The Prince George Citizen - - Worklife -

SYD­NEY, N.S. — Politi­cians of­fered a glim­mer of hope Fri­day to hun­dreds of Cape Bre­ton call cen­tre work­ers grap­pling with lay­offs less than three weeks be­fore Christ­mas, say­ing the op­er­a­tion has a “bright fu­ture” and could be up and run­ning again soon.

ServiCom Canada an­nounced the clo­sure of its Syd­ney op­er­a­tion Thurs­day, hand­ing pink slips to al­most 700 work­ers in a re­gion al­ready strug­gling with a stub­bornly high un­em­ploy­ment rate.

The shut­down fol­lowed a bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion fil­ing by ServiCom’s U.S. par­ent, weeks of pay delays and prom­ises of bonuses and pay in­cen­tives for work­ers who stayed.

In the af­ter­math of the lay­offs, many work­ers spent Fri­day fil­ing em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance claims and seek­ing help from lo­cal char­i­ties.

“I am dev­as­tated, to say the very least. It was def­i­nitely not what I ex­pected,” 26-year-old Kayla Wil­liams, who worked at the of­fice for five years, said from her home in Syd­ney.

“I want to be able to put (heat­ing) oil in my tank. I want to be able to put gro­ceries in my cup­board. I have two chil­dren here.”

Nova Sco­tia Busi­ness Minister Ge­off MacLel­lan said it was a “dev­as­tat­ing time for Cape Bre­ton­ers.”

How­ever, the Cape Bre­ton politi­cian also said he was con­fi­dent the cen­tre had a “bright fu­ture” af­ter speak­ing with a prospec­tive buyer Fri­day morn­ing.

“There is a po­ten­tial buyer that is very in­ter­ested and will do what­ever they can to make sure this cen­tre is part of their com­ple­ment in the very near fu­ture,” MacLel­lan said, adding that the po­ten­tial buyer was look­ing for­ward to “open­ing it early in the new year.”

The minister said he couldn’t of­fer more de­tails, cit­ing court pro­ceed­ings in the United States. He said a deal was pend­ing when the bank­ruptcy is­sues caused a snafu.

“We’re work­ing with that en­tity along with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to make sure we do what we can to re-en­gage this call cen­tre as soon as pos­si­ble,” he said.

Ce­cil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, said the clo­sure “came as a shock,” de­spite the com­pany’s on­go­ing fi­nan­cial trou­bles.

“It’s never good to lose your job, but dur­ing the win­ter and Christ­mas sea­son, it’s dev­as­tat­ing,” he said.

Still, Clarke said com­pany representatives have in­di­cated to him they in­tend “to have this sit­u­a­tion re­solved in the next cou­ple of days.”

He said even though the call cen­tre’s U.S. par­ent is in fi­nan­cial trou­ble, the cen­tre it­self was turn­ing a profit.

Mean­while, Clarke said the im­me­di­ate fo­cus is on pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary tran­si­tion as­sis­tance to work­ers.

The Syd­ney op­er­a­tion first opened un­der dif­fer­ent own­er­ship nearly two decades ago dur­ing a wave of call cen­tre open­ings across the Mar­itimes.

Busi­nesses were at­tracted by the re­gion’s lower pay­roll costs and of­ten re­ceived gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives.

A Nova Sco­tia Busi­ness Inc. me­dia re­lease from March 2009 said the Crown-owned busi­ness agency pro­vided ServiCom, a sub­sidiary of JNET Com­mu­ni­ca­tions LLC, with a pay­roll re­bate worth up to $914,400 over five years.

Since 2010, ServiCom has re­ceived $638,360 in loans from the fed­eral At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency and En­ter­prise Cape Bre­ton Cor­po­ra­tion, part of ACOA since 2014.

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