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

In lieu of layoffs, Canadian Natural Resources asked employees making over $50,000 to take a pay cut.

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.

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