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Burnaby Hudson's Bay workers on ‘pins and needles’ as layoffs start

More than 600 workers set to be laid off
Hudson's Bay mask sign
Mandatory mask sign posted in a Hudson's Bay Company store. (via Glacier Media)

Hudson's Bay Co. is permanently laying off more than 600 workers across Canada amid ongoing COVID-19 impacts. 

And it’s leaving some Burnaby workers feeling downright unsettled.

The company, which operates Bay stores in Lougheed Town Centre and Metropolis at Metrotown, made the announcement recently. The NOW visited one of the two Bay stores in Burnaby over the weekend and spoke with a worker on the condition of anonymity.

“The news spreads fast,” the Bay worker said. “We don’t think it will impact our jobs here right now, but we’re all on pins in needles wondering.”

Workers have been wondering about their future after the Coquitlam HBC location was shut down for a few days by its mall landlord back in November. It was only able to reopen following a ruling handed down by B.C.'s Supreme Court.  

In her ruling, Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick ordered the iconic retailer to pay 50% of the rent it owed to the landlord and 50% of rent going forward. The other half of unpaid and future rent is to be placed in a trust fund held by HBC’s lawyers until the matter is resolved in the new year. “Hudson’s Bay is grateful that the Supreme Court of British Columbia has recognized the extraordinary challenges of the global pandemic and how the burden can be shared fairly and lawfully,” said HBC president and CEO Ian Putnam in a written statement. “The majority of Canada’s leading landlords share this view and have reached mutually acceptable agreements with us.

Nearly half the company's department stores remain temporarily closed, said Tiffany Bourre, a spokeswoman for the iconic retailer.

"The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on non-essential retailers," she said in an emailed statement. "Due to these circumstances beyond our control, the company has had to make adjustments which have resulted in a reduction in workforce."

The permanent layoffs represent less than 5% of the company's total workforce, Bourre said. 

She added that it was "an incredibly tough decision" and that HBC is committed to treating each individual affected with fairness and respect during these difficult times.

Yet employment lawyer Lior Samfiru said his firm has been contacted by about 40 HBC workers concerned about the terms of their termination. 

Samfiru, a partner with Samfiru Tumarkin LLP, said the terminated workers he has spoken with claim they are not being offered adequate severance, and such a situation could be considered a wrongful dismissal.

The employees have received a so-called working notice, he said, which means they are expected to work until their termination date.

Yet he calls such a notice when stores aren't open and employees can't work "absurd," and said HBC should be providing payment in lieu of notice.

Samfiru said his law firm will be engaging HBC on behalf of terminated employees to ensure "they get what they're owed."

None of the allegations have been tested in court. 

Meanwhile, he said the workers, both part-time and full-time, have worked for the retailer for between 10 and 30 years, predominantly in sales and middle management. 

  • With files from The Canadian Press