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More than 400 former employees of ServiCom’s Sydney call centre gathered at the Ashby Legion on Monday afternoon and were told there is optimism a deal can be reached with a potential investor who is interested in buying and reopening the call centre that employed more than 600 people.
More than 400 former employees of ServiCom’s Sydney call centre gathered at the Ashby Legion on Monday afternoon and were told there is optimism a deal can be reached with a potential investor who is interested in buying and reopening the call centre that employed more than 600 people. - David Jala

SYDNEY, N.S. — The province’s business minister says while he’s had direct contact with the prospective buyer of Sydney’s ServiCom call centre, there haven’t been any inquiries about potential incentives.

Both Business Minister Geoff MacLellan and Premier Stephen McNeil weighed in on the ServiCom closure during a post-cabinet scrum and conference call with reporters Thursday.

More than 600 people were thrown out of work when the call centre suddenly closed last week, in the wake of the bankruptcy protection filing in the U.S. by parent company JNET Communications on Oct. 19.

Geoff MacLellan
Geoff MacLellan

“Quite plainly, we haven’t been asked for anything by the potential buyer,” MacLellan told reporters.

“This potential buyer was in the mix and interested in the site without any discussions about what incentives would be there to get them to Sydney.”

He said immediately following the closure, representatives of Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Service Canada, Employment Nova Scotia and Service Nova Scotia met to see what could be done to assist the workers in the short term but also looked ahead to what could be done to facilitate a new operator coming in and rehiring employees.

“There’s no set timeline, but I feel certain that the end of these proceedings … are very much imminent,” MacLellan said.

There have been no requests for measures such as a payroll rebate from the possible buyer, MacLellan said, adding the arm’s length agency Nova Scotia Business Inc. has criteria set out that determines eligibility.

Whether a new owner would even be eligible for payroll rebate has yet to be determined and will likely be dependent on the outcome of the bankruptcy court proceeding.

While he couldn’t offer any guarantees, based on the conversations he’s had, MacLellan said he is confident a sale could be completed by Christmas. Then it would be a matter of addressing issues like leases and seeing how quickly it may be able to ramp up operations and fulfil the terms of contracts with customers.

“This is a performance-based industry and we’re second to none in Sydney,” MacLellan said.

He added a number of members of cabinet and other government officials have been contacted by others who expressed an interest in obtaining the call centre, locally, regionally and internationally, although the party involved in the bankruptcy proceeding is likely the best positioned.

McNeil commended the employees who continued to show up to work in the weeks prior to the shutdown of the centre despite not having been paid.

Stephen McNeil
Stephen McNeil

“I think it indicates what a professional workforce this company has,” he said, describing his outlook as being cautiously optimistic.

McNeil noted the workers hadn’t been paid for close to a month before the call centre was suddenly shuttered. He said motions were quickly put in place to mobilize programs that might be able to assist the employees, from help with heating costs to working with a fund from the federal government that flows through the provincial labour department providing a weekly living allowance to help bridge the affected workers until they are eligible for employment insurance benefits.

“They’ve made it clear what they’re looking for is a job and we’re working with them and potential people to look at (the) possibility that this operation can be there,” McNeil said, noting the work done on the file by McLellan and Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier and the minister of mines and energy, as well as public servants who he said worked over the weekend to get the supports in place.

“This is not the first time that we’ve used this program … Often times when people are losing their jobs, they’re usually not in a position where they haven’t been paid for three weeks and there’s nothing coming on the way out for vacation or anything else,” McNeil said.

The dedication shown by those who worked in the weeks prior to the closure sends an important message to any future operator of the call centre, McNeil said.

Related:

• SPECIAL REPORT: Iowa City businessman Anthony Marlowe could finalize purchase of Sydney's ServiCom call centre next week

• SPECIAL REPORT: Lawyers hash out ServiCom Canada bankruptcy in U.S. court

• ServiCom call centre in Sydney throws 600 out of work

• Cape Bretoners stepping up to help former ServiCom employees

• Feds, province optimistic potential buyer will reopen bankrupt Sydney call centre
 

nancy.king@cbpost.com

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