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Call centre abruptly closes in Cape Breton, leaving hundreds without work

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

ServiCom officials gathered workers at the operation in Sydney 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, especially after she said the 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 start the process of filing for insurance.

“I want to be able put 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 in a statement Thursday evening that the sudden closure “came as a shock,” despite the company’s ongoing financial troubles. 

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

Clarke suggested it may be up and running again under new ownership.

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 the site 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 causing her to go weeks without compensation.

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 that she fears she may not see.

She said employees were promised the centre was going to be there and that 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-a-half-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 employees and an oil company was offering to adopt her family for Christmas.

– By Alison Auld in Halifax

The Canadian Press