UPDATE: On Feb. 6, Google and YouTube parent Alphabet Inc. began laying off employees in Canada. Read updates here.
Anxieties are mounting at Google owner Alphabet Inc.’s GOOGL-Q offices in Canada, where employees have yet to be informed about whether their jobs will be cut as part of the nearly 12,000 layoffs announced by the California-based technology giant two weeks ago.
When Sundar Pichai, Alphabet chief executive officer, told staff in a memo on Jan. 20 that 6 per cent of them will be let go in the coming days, layoffs in the United States were effective immediately. But outside the U.S., Alphabet has kept hundreds of thousands of tech workers in limbo, including staff and their managers in Canada.
That’s in contrast to the relatively quick cuts made by Amazon.com Inc. AMZN-Q and Microsoft Corp. MSFT-Q earlier that week, and Meta Platforms Inc. Meta Platforms Inc. late last year, which also affected hundreds of Canadian employees.
As of early February, Google’s nearly 2,500 or so engineers, sales leaders and researchers at offices in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.; Toronto; and Montreal are still waiting to see which of them will be affected by the company’s cuts and what their severance packages will look like. While Alphabet has confirmed it is shutting down its artificial intelligence research centre in Edmonton and relocating staff for its subsidiary DeepMind Technologies Ltd., it is unclear there, too, how many jobs will be chopped.
Luiza Staniec, Google’s Canadian spokesperson, declined to provide details about the cuts, referring back to Mr. Pichai’s memo from two weeks ago, which stated that the process for layoffs “will take longer” for non-U.S. workers. The memo mentions that the wide-ranging layoffs will “cut across Alphabet, product areas, functions, levels and regions.”
As Google Canada waits for the hammer to fall, some employees have begun to voice their concerns, particularly on social media, against the norm for a company that has long maintained corporate privacy.
“It’s a rough time for non-U.S. Googlers as we wait to see which of us are affected by the pending layoffs,” Eric Giguere, a Waterloo-based software engineer for Google, wrote on LinkedIn.
“I hope it’s over soon so we can all get on with our lives.”
In anticipation of the layoffs from Alphabet, staff in Canada have begun to share with each other what information they should preserve if they lose access to their e-mail and other accounts without notice. This includes pay slips, details from retirement plans and leads on companies that are hiring.
“Google culture has taken a huge hit because of this,” Mr. Giguere said. “We truly are a community and it’s going to be very sad to see our colleagues let go whenever it happens, especially if we’re lucky enough to survive the purge.”
Franco Amalfi, Google’s Montreal-based head of sustainability strategy for the global public sector, said the company’s impending cuts have created a “huge sense of loss.”
“I went from being part of an amazing team led by one of the best leaders I’ve worked for in my career, Emma Fish, to not knowing if I’ll have a role at Google in the future,” Mr. Amalfi wrote on LinkedIn.
Alphabet is also facing some criticism that its job cuts are more about acquiescing shareholder concerns and clamping down on employee salaries rather than refocusing on priorities such as artificial intelligence, which Mr. Pichai had emphasized in his memo.
Two months before the cuts, Alphabet was told by a significant shareholder that the company’s cost base was too high and that management must take “aggressive action” about how much it was “overpaying” its employees.
“Alphabet pays some of the highest salaries in Silicon Valley,” Christopher Hohn, managing director of TCI Fund Management Ltd., wrote in a scathing letter directly addressing Mr. Pichai. TCI, which owns nearly US$6-billion in Alphabet shares, is a Britain-based hedge fund with a global reputation for its shareholder activism.
Pointing to an analysis by S&P Global, TCI suggested that as of mid-November, 2022, Google employees are paid 67 per cent higher than those at Microsoft and 153 per cent higher than 20 other big tech companies: “There is no justification for this enormous disparity.”
Mr. Pichai suggested in his memo, and at a companywide town hall, that the process for job cuts will take longer for non-U.S. workers “due to local laws and practices.” In Canada, that includes the Employment Standards Act and other such measures, which “require companies like Google to not lay people off willy-nilly, as they might be able to in the U.S.,” said Hermie Abraham, a Toronto-based lawyer for Advocation Professional Corp. These matters get more complicated if Canadian workers are unionized, Ms. Abraham added.
The Alphabet Workers Union, declined to say how many Canadian employees are part of the minority organization, which is not eligible for collective bargaining. William Fitzgerald, a union spokesperson, also would not provide any general details about layoffs or severance packages.