'They lied to me': Nearly 600 people out of work as Sydney, N.S., call centre closes

Nearly 600 people are out of work and owed three weeks of pay after a call centre closed in Sydney, N.S., a day after the manager said there was a tentative deal with a new owner, which "broke down."

ServiCom declared bankruptcy Thursday, owing workers 3 weeks worth of pay

Justin Boutilier is one of nearly 600 workers who lost their jobs Thursday when ServiCom, a Sydney, N.S., call centre, declared bankruptcy. (CBC)

Nearly 600 people lost their jobs in Sydney, N.S., on Thursday after call centre ServiCom declared bankruptcy and closed — a decision denounced as "a cowardly act," with Christmas less than three weeks away.

ServiCom manager Todd Riley said as of Wednesday night, there had been a tentative deal in place with a new owner.

"Unfortunately, it broke down today," Riley said Thursday.

Employees gathered outside the call centre in the afternoon after ServiCom executives broke the news. The company has operated in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for the past 19 years, employing 700 people during peak periods.

About 80 per cent of those employees were full-time, Riley said. 

Cape Breton Regional Police were at ServiCom offices in Sydney, N.S., on Thursday when the company announced it was shutting down, putting hundreds out of work. (CBC)

Justin Boutilier, who has worked at ServiCom for 14½​ years, says workers are owed about three weeks of pay.

"They got an extra three weeks work out of everyone and now everything goes to bankruptcy. That's $1,500 I'm not going to get — I owe Eastlink, power. No one's going to get EI before Christmas. It's tough, I got two kids."

Police called 

 About six police officers were also at the 90 Inglis St. site.

"People were going to be mad, but the cops were here before we had the meeting. People knew about this. They stretched every last minute ... out of us," Boutilier said.

Dianna Brewster who worked at ServiCom in Sydney, N.S., says she's devastated by the call centre's decision to shut its doors weeks before Christmas. (CBC)

He said a number of families may have to turn to social assistance to survive.   

The company's financial woes were evident in August when workers' paycheques were late three times in a row.

"It's disgusting. How are you supposed to take care of your family? It's just not fair," sobbed Dianna Brewster who was employed at the call centre for the past 15 months.

"Christmas is around the corner. I've got a family to take care of, how am I supposed to provide for them when I have nothing? I gave my all to here."

Riley called the current owner's decision to close the call centre so close to Christmas "a cowardly act."

"They lied to me. In turn, I had to work with 700 people — to go in day in and day out, to keep people on the phones and encouraging them that things were going to get better. I am very, very disappointed in the leadership. A lot of people have to go without pays before Christmas."

ServiCom call centre director Todd Riley said he's hopeful a potential buyer may come forward with an offer to resume the call centre's operations. (Holly Conners/CBC)

He said ServiCom had previously been "extremely profitable" with gross profits of $500,000 to $600,000 per month.

Hope for new buyer

Riley said he is still holding out hope the call centre will be sold and resume operating.

The potential buyer, an American citizen, "is a very solid and reputable businessman" who intends to continue to pursue the purchase, he said.

"And I am going to work my darnedest to get this deal done within the next five to 10 business days so we can get people back employed," said Riley.

In the meantime, Riley said he and the payroll department will work to streamline employment insurance applications for those who've lost their jobs.

"I pray for everybody during this time. It's going to be hard," Riley said, choking back tears.

About the Author

Susan Bradley

Reporter

Susan Bradley is a journalist in Halifax.

With files from CBC Cape Breton