Companies in ailing oilpatch look for ways to avoid or delay layoffs

CALGARY — Companies in the ailing oilpatch are looking at ways to avoid layoffs — or at the very least to forestall or minimize them.Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has not had to trim its workforce of more than 7,600 as a result of the crude price collapse.“In lieu of layoffs, we went to our staff and said ‘we will do wage reductions.’ And every employee who made more than $50,000 had a wage reduction,” chairman Murray Edwards said to applause at a recent business forum in Lake Louise, Alta.“The majority of employees said they would rather … keep the team together than to have people laid off.”The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has estimated at least 40,000 jobs have been shed in Canada’s oil and gas industry this year, with the bulk in Alberta.With oil prices hovering below US$50 a barrel for much of this year — and dropping below US$40 in recent days — it’s been tough for oil producers to justify investing in new projects.About 1,500 job losses have been announced at oilsands giant Cenovus Energy this year. But in addition to that, the company has taken a hard look at benefits and discretionary spending, said CEO Brian Ferguson.“We did put in a salary freeze in 2015 as did, I think, most of industry. We have reassessed all of our time off practices.”Debby Carreau, CEO of human resources consulting firm Inspired HR, encourages employers to look at all their options before they resort to letting staff go.Never mind $35 a barrel, Canada’s oil is selling for closer to $20Encana Corp slashes dividend and cuts capital spending by more than a quarterThat could include reducing or delaying contributions to Registered Retirement Savings Plans, suspending health spending accounts, freezing salaries or slashing bonuses.Some companies that have cut salaries are rewarding employees with stock. Others have instituted shortened work weeks or given employees “unpaid sabatticals” until things look up.And some have encouraged employees to go back to school or brush up on their training, with a promise that they’ll have a job to return to.Instead of catered lunches in the office every day, maybe it’s sandwiches from Subway once every two weeks now, said Carreau.“Those peripheral fringe benefits can actually add up, especially in Calgary where we’ve had such lucrative compensation plans,” she said.“Some of those things that people don’t automatically look at can actually save on costs and send the right message to the organization — that you care, but you’re doing everything you can to keep the jobs.”Integra Ltd., a company with fewer than 30 employees that helps oil and gas companies manage their documents, has done everything possible to avoid layoffs, said partner Chris Blender.Blender and the firm’s other partners have taken a pay cut. Integra also found a new benefits provider that offers the same services as the old one, but at a lower cost.“Because we’re in the service industry, people are our business and we spend a lot of time to attract and train our people,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is let anybody go during this time.” read more

New Brunswick court ruling on crossborder beer imports boosts sales in Quebec

New Brunswick court ruling on cross-border beer imports boosts sales in Quebec by Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press Posted May 2, 2016 11:28 am MDT Last Updated May 2, 2016 at 1:00 pm MDT AddThis Sharing ButtonsShare to TwitterTwitterShare to FacebookFacebookShare to RedditRedditShare to 電子郵件Email FREDERICTON – There was a run on beer in southeastern Quebec this weekend, as New Brunswickers took advantage of a court ruling throwing out limits on cross-border alcohol imports.Many New Brunswick customers bought five or six cases of beer each to take home, store employees said.“My normal customers were buying more than they normally buy,” said Margaret Boyd at Mom Duty Free in Listuguj, Que., not far from Campbellton, N.B.“They said ‘the courts made the decision and now we’re buying some while we can’,” Boyd said.Beer near the border in Quebec is about half the price charged in New Brunswick.On Friday, a judge tossed out all charges against Gerard Comeau, who was charged with illegally importing 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor from a Quebec border town in 2012.Comeau’s lawyer described the ruling as “groundbreaking,” and said it will have a national impact far beyond saving Maritimers on the cost of their beer.Arnold Schwisberg said the ruling could have the power to shift a host of laws across the country governing everything from selling chickens to how engineers and other professionals work across provincial lines.A government spokeswoman said the Department of Public Safety, which enforces the province’s Liquor Control Act, is reviewing the court decision.In Quebec, local brewers sell directly to convenience stores without a government mark-up.During the trial last year, Richard Smith, senior vice-president of the New Brunswick Liquor Corp., said in New Brunswick where the sale of liquor must be through NB Liquor outlets, the corporation adds a mark-up of as much as 89.8 per cent to the price it pays the breweries.Smith said the Crown corporation makes about $165 million in profits each year for the provincial government.On Monday, a spokesman for NB Liquor declined comment on the court decision.“As the matter is still within the appeal period, it would be inappropriate … to comment any further at this time,” Mark Barbour wrote in an email. In this file photo, various brands of beer are seen on display inside a store in Drummondville, Que., on July 23, 2015. Beer lovers from New Brunswick are taking advantage of a judge’s ruling that threw out charges based on the amount of alcohol a person can import from other provinces. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz read more