Sears stiffs Canadian workers

Jen@CBJ — July 26, 2009

I just read a news story with 35 comments (and counting) from people who are cutting their Sears credit cards or boycotting the store altogether. Here is a sample:

  • “Snip Snip. That is the sound of my Sears card getting cut up!  See ya, take my business somewhere else.”
  • “…One word: boycott”
  • “I agree with those who say boycott. My card will be shredded tomorrow and all catalogues will go to the recycling bin at SARCAN…”

Canadian retailer Sears has decided to cut labour costs by laying off Canadian call centre-workers in Regina and Belleville. Effective in September, a total of 480 people will be without jobs. It gets better. The call-centre jobs will be relocated to the Philippines, where the company can pay less money for the same amount of staff.

I am interested to see how their Public Relations department is going to spin this, because I see an issue here on three levels. First, in order to make more money – not break even – a Canadian company who serves the Canadian public is laying off Canadian workers at a time when jobs are scarce. The only other way I know how to label this is “biting the hand that feeds you”. Bad move.

Second, Sears has made an implicit statement about the “value” of Filipino workers, raising an ethical debate. Why don’t overseas workers deserve a proper wage? Another bad move, especially at a time when business ethics are under scrutiny.

Finally, Sears is flaunting its lack of leadership in the industry. Vincent Power, Sears Canada spokesperson, told CBC News “this is the way the industry is going”. As a retail giant, Sears had an opportunity to set the standard as a 100% Canadian employer, a principle that might have cost money, but one that would garner respect (or at least marketing opportunities).  Fail.

Yes, it is a corporation’s prerogative to make a profit.  But it is a consumer’s prerogative to choose how they contribute to that profit. And if these comments are representative of a few hundred opinions, it sounds like what Sears saved on the labour costs it will lose in sales.

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