Shaw offers buyout packages to 6,500 employees as it looks to cut workforce

Shaw Communications Inc. has announced a massive staff-reduction program that asks some 6,500 employees to consider taking voluntary buyouts as the company looks to cut its workforce.

Workers advised to 'think critically about their future with the company, and make realistic decisions'

A Shaw Communications sign at the company's headquarters in Calgary. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Shaw Communications Inc. has announced a massive staff-reduction program that asks some 6,500 employees to consider taking voluntary buyouts as the company looks to cut its workforce.

In a release, the Calgary-based communications company said the buyouts are part of a multi-year initiative meant to "refocus Shaw's operations toward providing service more easily through highly capable online and smartphone apps and more self-installed services."

To that end, Shaw Communications president Jay Mehr said the company will need to make "some significant changes to serve customers the way they expect to be served in 2018 and beyond."

"Our agents in contact centres and our technicians will still be able to deal with more complex questions and situations, but we are committed to listening better to our customers and changing our operating model to better suit their preferences for service when they want and how they want it," Mehr said.

The goal is to become "a leaner, more integrated, and more agile workforce," he added.

The voluntary buyout program runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14.

About 10% expected to take buyouts

The company said the program will "give selected employees the opportunity to think critically about their future with the company, and make realistic decisions about their role in Shaw's evolution."

Employees at both Shaw and its mobile operator, Freedom Mobile, have been offered the buyout package and the parent company expects about 10 per cent (650) will accept it.

"We know that in the future we need to be leaner, we need to be more integrated as a company, we need to be more agile as a company and we also know we're going to need different types of skill sets going forward," said Chethan Lakshman, vice-president of external affairs.

"We know we have certain goals in terms of our own business model and the number of people and the kinds of people we need, and that's what that number is based on."

Eligible employees "will receive a generous severance package delivered via email" on Jan. 31 and will have until Feb. 14 to decide whether to accept it, according to an internal company memo obtained by CBC News.

The actual departures of employees who accept the buyouts will then take place over the ensuing two to 18 months, the memo states.

"To continue to drive the business and ensure customer experience is not affected during this program, customer-facing employees in customer care, retail and sales and their direct leaders will not be eligible for the program," the memo adds.

"This program will be made available in the future to employees currently not eligible, should business needs arise."

Patrick Horan, a portfolio manager with Toronto-based Agilith Capital, said the move is likely related to new internet protocol television technology that Shaw has adopted from Comcast, one of the largest internet service providers in the United States.

"They're probably seeing enhanced productivity improvements with it," Horan said, noting the technology allows more tasks to be handled remotely rather than by physically sending an employee to a person's home.

"And from what I understand the technology is more reliable so they probably need less in the way of people in call centres," he added.

Shaw compared to T-Mobile in the U.S.

Horan said Shaw is also likely shifting its business model away from video and more toward wireless communications through Freedom Mobile (formerly Wind Mobile), the brand it bought in 2016.

"I suspect most of these [buyouts] are happening on the cable or the video side of the business and really this is just an admission that this is a new reality in our video land," he said. "It's not a growth sector."

He believes Shaw is trying to become a Canadian version of T-Mobile, an upstart mobile communications brand that started small but grew quickly in the U.S.

"If you look at the states, it took Verizon and AT&T really about a year and a half before they really responded and took T-Mobile seriously," Horan said.

He said it will be interesting to watch how the three major wireless providers in Canada — Bell, Rogers and Telus — react to Shaw's growing presence in the market.

Clarifications

  • An early version of this story referred to Shaw looking to cut customer service staff, based on the company's news release, which talks about revamping the way it interacts with customers. But an internal memo obtained by CBC News and confirmed to be authentic states "employees in customer care, retail and sales" will not be eligible for the buyouts. It also states eligibility may be expanded in the future.
    Jan 30, 2018 1:15 PM MT

With files from Meegan Read