Contrary to reports that Great Slave Helicopters will not be laying off Northern workers after a Saskatchewan-based owner purchased a number of its assets, at least one NWT employee has indeed been laid off.
Yellowknifer obtained a termination letter over the weekend to a Northern resident dated Nov. 26. The sale of most of Great Slave Helicopters’ assets to a new company “Great Slave Helicopters 2018” closed Nov. 23.
The letter provides a backgrounder about the company filing for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 4 and then tells the employee their employment was being terminated effective immediately.
The letter also states that amounts owing to the letter recipient “in lieu of notice or severance pay are an unsecured claim against the company.”
Al Martin, now former company president of Great Slave Helicopters, explained that this means the employee has become an “unsecured creditor” — meaning they may never see the money owed to them because there might not be enough money left over from the sale of assets to pay them.
“So they may or may not get all or some of their money,” said Martin. “It will be some time before that is sorted out.”
Martin said “quite a number” of termination notices were handed out following the Nov. 23 sale closure but most of them went to employees in Calgary. Only a “handful” of the employees receiving notices live in the NWT.
“Out of (the sale), the new company has a set of employees and we — the old company on the 26th – went through quite a number of terminations, mainly non-Northern. There were maybe one or two exceptions,” said Martin.
“It was really just the end point of the old Great Slave (Helicopters). The old Great Slave (Helicopters) didn’t work for a reason so the new Great Slave (2018) bought what they needed and we basically terminated quite a number of employees. We have been keeping on through the whole sale process until we knew what the outcome was. We tried to keep as many people for as long as we could. But as of last Monday (Nov. 26), we went through a lot of terminations.”
Martin said the number of employees that remain now leaves “a significantly smaller but more Northern focused business.”
Martin declined to provide absolute numbers of the number of employees remaining or the number of people laid off.
A current employee of the company, who wished to go unnamed, said there were about 80 people laid off and that about 35 remain.
Asked if this contradicts recent local media reports that the company would not be laying off Northern workers, Martin said no.
“It doesn’t contradict, no. It is a transition. I know the reports that came from the new company is to go back to where Great Slave was years ago as a Northern company and doing what we were very good at,” he said.
“The company grew and grew and the market didn’t grow. It is not an unusual situation where a company grows and gets too big.”
Aviation executive from Saskatchewan
According to a news release from Great Slave on Friday, the Ontario Superior Court approved the sale of the company’s assets on Nov. 23. The new “Great Slave Helicopters 2018” is owned by Pat Campling Jr., a longtime aviation executive from Saskatchewan.
Martin said Great Slave Helicopters still technically exists but is in a wind-down period as the new company takes over. According to court documents filed during the sale process, the company had been losing about $5 million a year and was $127 million in debt.
“The old GSH is going through a wind-down process where they are still collecting receivables or money owed so they can pay creditors what they can pay creditors,” he said.
Martin said not all assets went to Campling Jr. as Delta Helicopters, a northern Alberta company, purchased one helicopter.
When contacted Monday, Campling Jr. said he would not comment on employees being terminated but recommended contacting Jennifer Burry, the new chief operating officer of Great Slave 2018. Repeated attempts to interview Burry this week were unsuccessful by press time.
Campling Jr. added his company has only been operating since last week.
“I’m not getting involved in the personnel stuff,” he said. “All I have instructed them to do is that I want them to have the head office in the North and all the staff need to be in the North. That is my big push. We need to support the North.”
When asked if Campling Jr. knew of any termination letters issued last week, he said he did not, but added that any layoffs would have been issued by the company preceding his own – Great Slave Helicopters Ltd.
“I have no idea what the previous company did,” he said. “We have only been operating since Thursday or Friday.”
In September, News/North reported that Great Slave Helicopters was restructuring its operations and selling assets. Last March, Discovery Air, the helicopter’s former parent company was granted creditor protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act while it tried to sell its three subsidiary companies .
Adam Bembridge, president of Acasta Heliflight and ex-owner of Great Slave Helicopters, said his company has hired some former Great Slave employees since the termination letters were issued.
He couldn’t say how many as of press time.
“We already have, for sure,” he said. “The normal course of business and business when you’re recruiting is a very competitive market. With our business, we have gone from six aircraft to operating 14 this summer. We intend on operating at least that many, if not a few more.”