Call cen­tre closes in Cape Bre­ton, leav­ing al­most 700 out of work

Waterloo Region Record - - Record | Business -

SYD­NEY, N.S. — Al­most 700 peo­ple lost their jobs at a Cape Bre­ton call cen­tre after the com­pany an­nounced its im­me­di­ate clo­sure Thurs­day, leav­ing em­ploy­ees stunned and with­out work less than three weeks to Christ­mas.

ServiCom Canada of­fi­cials gath­ered work­ers at the Syd­ney oper­a­tion just after lunch to in­form them that it was shut­ter­ing the fa­cil­ity, fol­low­ing weeks of pay de­lays and a bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion fil­ing by its par­ent com­pany in the United States.

Kayla Wil­liams, who worked at the of­fice for five years, said she was blind­sided by the news. She said com­pany of­fi­cials had re­cently promised bonuses and pay in­cen­tives.

“I am dev­as­tated, to say the very least. It was def­i­nitely not what I ex­pected,” the 26-year-old said from her home in Syd­ney, be­fore head­ing to the lo­cal Em­ploy­ment Canada of­fice to file an em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance claim.

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

Ce­cil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity,

said Fri­day 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.”

Clarke said com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives have in­di­cated they are in the process of sell­ing the Syd­ney oper­a­tion and “are hop­ing to have this sit­u­a­tion re­solved in the next cou­ple of days.”

He sug­gested the of­fice might be up and run­ning again un­der new own­er­ship.

“It’s a prof­itable cen­tre and mak­ing money, but was af­fected by the bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings in the U.S.,” Clarke said.

But he 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 were of­ten given govern­ment in­cen­tives.

A Nova Sco­tia Busi­ness Inc. me­dia re­lease from March 2009 said the arms-length busi­ness agency was pro­vid­ing ServiCom, a sub­sidiary of JNET Com­mu­ni­ca­tions LLC, with a pay­roll re­bate worth up to $914,400 over five years. In 2010, ServiCom re­ceived a $500,000 loan for ex­pan­sion from the fed­eral At­lantic Canada Op­por­tu­ni­ties Agency.

Un­like an out­bound call cen­tre, ServiCom pro­vided cus­tomer ser­vice sup­port to ma­jor firms, such as OnS­tar Corp., a sub­sidiary of Gen­eral Mo­tors, Sir­ius XM Satel­lite Ra­dio, AT&T Inc. and Al­ls­tate In­sur­ance com­pany.

“These are ser­vice-based and of­ten client-ini­ti­ated calls into the cen­tre” rather than the “cold calls of the past,” he said.

If the call cen­tre isn’t ac­quired by an­other firm, job prospects in the Cape Bre­ton re­gion are dim.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate on the is­land was 15 per cent last month — more than dou­ble the pro­vin­cial rate at 6.7 per cent, ac­cord­ing to un­ad­justed fig­ures from Statis­tics Canada.

Todd Ri­ley, the for­mer site man­ager at the Syd­ney of­fice, sug­gested on his Face­book page that work could be com­ing to the site un­der an­other com­pany.

“Hard­est day of my life!! Thanks to ev­ery­one who I worked with. I can­not ex­press how much I am hurt by this de­ci­sion but I am work­ing as hard as pos­si­ble and be­lieve we will get back to work soon,” he wrote.

Some em­ploy­ees said they left with no pay Thurs­day, pass­ing by po­lice ve­hi­cles sta­tioned out­side.

Wil­liams, who worked the phones for OnS­tar, said she had ex­pe­ri­enced pay de­lays dat­ing back to Au­gust, when she said there was a prob­lem with the pay­roll sys­tem. In Oc­to­ber, she said em­ploy­ees had to wait about two weeks to get paid when the com­pany was fil­ing for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion. She said she is owed sev­eral weeks of pay.

She said em­ploy­ees were told they did not need to worry about los­ing their jobs.

“I feel like it was a trick to keep us all there, es­pe­cially after promis­ing us all of these bonuses,” she said. “I have a two-and-ahalf-year-old (daugh­ter), a house, a mort­gage and all the bills that come along with it, so this is not a great feel­ing — es­pe­cially three weeks be­fore Christ­mas.”

She said a lo­cal food bank was open­ing its doors to those who lost their jobs.

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