Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia goes to bat for laid-off Sydney call centre workers

In what is believed to be a first, the Nova Scotia government has gone to court on behalf of workers and won a bankruptcy order against a company.

Provincial Labour Department forces defunct ServiCom call centre into bankruptcy so staff can claim back pay

Chris Feltrin, a longtime employee of what is now called the Sydney Call Centre, says he is happy to be getting back pay owed after ServiCom went into receivership. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour has taken the unusual step of going to court to force a bankruptcy.

The province and a former employee of the now-defunct ServiCom call centre in Sydney successfully took the action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday.

"As far as we know and can find, this would be the first time that Nova Scotia has taken this step," said Cynthia Yazbek, executive director of the labour services branch with the Labour Department.

ServiCom's parent company went into bankruptcy protection in the U.S. just before Christmas.

That left more than 600 employees without work and out more than $1 million in wages and bonuses.

More than 600 people worked at the ServiCom call centre in Sydney when it shut its doors just three weeks before Christmas. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Yazbek said the province had to step in so employees could access the federal Wage Earner Protection Program.

"We knew that there was no other way for employees to recover," she said.

"They were not going to be able to recover their wages from ServiCom because there were no assets."

Typically, employees of a company that has gone bankrupt in Canada can automatically access the Wage Earner Protection Program, Yazbek said.

Program backed by EI

The federal program is backed by employment insurance, but Yazbek said it isn't available to employees of a company that has gone bankrupt in the U.S.

That's why the province sought a bankruptcy order here, she said.

The Labour Department was also concerned about the number of employees affected.

Quick return to work

The Canadian operation closed just three weeks before Christmas, but reopened early in January after an American company took over the call centre's contracts.

Christmas was difficult for most of the workers, but they were buoyed by the prospect of a quick return to work.

Longtime call centre worker Chris Feltrin said he's looking forward to getting a cheque for lost wages, bonuses and severance.

I just think it's great that our government is actually fighting for us ... it's definitely a silver lining on this whole situation.- Chris Feltrin, longtime call centre worker

"It's definitely our money that we're getting back, and I'm just really happy that our province went ahead and went the distance for us there," he said.

"I just think it's great that our government is actually fighting for us, and I didn't expect that we would get anything back, so the fact that we are going to get some money back, it's definitely a silver lining on this whole situation."

Yazbek said the province also had the accounting firm Grant Thornton appointed as a trustee to help employees get their back pay.

Those affected have up to eight weeks to make a claim with the federal government, and cheques should arrive about four weeks after they do so, she said.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.