TL;DR – “Don’t I even get a chance to say goodbye?”
We cannot stress more or enough about how tough times are coming.
The world is now facing a global pandemic and we’re still in the midst of it. Even countries that had previously seemed to be containing the coronavirus rather effectively are reporting new waves of infection.
No need to look too far. Hong Kong has implementing new measures amid a sustained run of daily triple-digit infections – its third wave. The city also recorded its 19th Covid-19 death yesterday (Monday).
One significant move the Hong Kong government has implemented is the ban of dining in restaurants from tomorrow (Wednesday). It hurts the economy undoubtedly, affects the Hong Kongers’ everyday lives.
Heck, it’s even causing a lot of distress to McRefugees (homeless people who take refuge and sleep in McDees in Hong Kong).
COVID-19 is not just a health issue
It’s also an economic challenge as well as a social challenge.
If we cannot develop a vaccine or some solution soon, many borders will remain closed, business activities will remain low and basically, people’s livelihoods will be hurt. Cos we can foresee that most responsible governments will not risk the lives of their people and hence, there will be some form of social distancing, movement restrictions or in more severe or extreme cases, some form of lockdown.
This means that people’s livelihoods will be hurt. Badly.
And why it’s a social problem? Cos chances are the poorer people will be hurt more than than people who have some financial buffer.
In Singapore, many of us are actually sorta cushioned and shielded for a while, thanks to the four budgets that the Government has pushed out since February, particularly with the Job Support Scheme (JSS).
The Job Support Scheme saw the government helping businesses with 75% of wage support, capped at $4,600. This help started from April and will end in August. This has helped to save many jobs in the past months, especially during the two Circuit Breaker months.
In addition, there are various schemes in place to help Singaporean households cope with the economic uncertainty.
Even then, months of no or very low sales activities have taken a toll on some businesses. Even with JSS, businesses still have other overheads. A number of them have not been able to sustain the operating costs and have folded.
Not a surprise. The Government has been saying this over and over again they’re starting to sound like a broken record, warning us of the difficult times ahead.
In case you’re still not convinced, some official stats were out a couple of weeks ago.
And yeps, Singapore is officially in a technical recession.
Unfortunately, we can only brace ourselves for more hard times ahead. We probably need to go through a period of rough challenges economically before we can even start talking about making a recovery.
Once JSS stops after August and if the safe distancing measures and current Work-From-Home arrangement remain, we can expect more businesses to fold.
And yes, retrenchments will happen.
The case of Resorts World Sentosa (RWS)
In fact, it has already started happening. Two weeks ago, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) announced one round of layoff. Although RWS did not release or confirm any numbers, market talk has it that some 2,000 out of its 7,000 workforce will be let go.
This retrenchment exercise is a last resort as they have already reportedly reviewed all costs, eliminated non-essential spending and reduced the salaries of management by up to 30 per cent.
RWS has also worked with the union to retain a vast majority of Singapore employees in this one-off retrenchment exercise. It added that all affected staff will get fair compensation.
The market practice for retrenchment benefits is two weeks to a month of salary for every year clocked. Unionised companies tend to see higher payout as the unions will negotiate for the best possible benefits for the affected workers.
RWS is working with the Government and various agencies, including NTUC, to help the retrenched workers find new jobs.
As for retained staff, RWS will be training and reassigning some to new roles under its RWS 2.0 transformation. The RWS 2.0 transformation was announced in April last year as a $4.5 billion project to revolutionise visitor experience at the integrated resort.
NTUC’s secretary-general Ng Chee Meng had gone down in the first practicable instant two weeks ago to reach out to the affected workers.
He’d said this in a Facebook post,
“AREU (i.e. the union) and NTUC’s Employment & Employability Institute (e2i) have worked with RWS to pre-match two to three potential job opportunities to affected workers to speed up their job search.”
Updates to the RWS retrenchment story
It has been two weeks since RWS’ retrenchment story broke, and there is a quick update from NTUC’s Desmond Choo, Advisor for the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union (AREU). Choo is also a Member of Parliament for the Tampines GRC.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Choo confirmed that he has been following the developments of the RWS retrenchment case.
Choo also gave the following updates:
- NTUC’s priority is to ensure that affected workers’ concerns and issues are addressed, and to ensure that fair treatment has been accorded.
- The union has been working with RWS to address and resolves these concerns and issues.
- The union assures members and workers that they will continue to provide them with assistance and to fight to protect their interests.
- The union, together with NTUC’s Job Security Council and NTUC’s e2i, are in the process of helping affected RWS workers find new jobs.
- Each affected worker has already been offered 2-3 job opportunities for their consideration.
- Over 300 Singaporean/PR workers attended a job fair organised by NTUC’s e2i on 20th July, which saw 75% of them being shortlisted by prospective employers.
- Job matching and coaching offered to all Singaporean/PR workers will start from this week.
The labour movement assures workers that they will continue to look out for NTUC members and workers to protect their rights and interests. It is also committed to mobilising their community resources to help workers tide over difficult times.
NTUC proposes new Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF)
Just last Friday, the labour movement called for companies to observe fair retrenchment practices and also for protection of the Singaporean core amid rising retrenchments.
With more retrenchments becoming inevitable in the coming months, NTUC has proposed a Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF).
They hope to ensure management approaches retrenchment with openness, transparency and consultation with unions and workers. And very importantly, to observe the FRF to protect the workers’ rights and ensure fair treatment.
In a media statement and also via their secretary-general Ng Chee Meng’s Facebook page, NTUC reiterated that retrenchment should always be the last resort.
If inevitable, companies should observe the following principles during retrenchment exercises:
- Protecting Singaporean Core – help Singaporeans to keep their jobs while due considerations are given to foreign workers
- Preserving Jobs – early intervention to cut costs, and save as many jobs as possible
- Providing Job Support – leverage NTUC Job Security Council (JSC) to provide necessary support to help workers seek new employment and training for new skills that are required for new jobs
You can check out Ng’s Facebook post here,
Another retrenchment story: Eagle Services Asia
There was another retrenchment story in the Chinese media yesterday (Monday).
This time, it’s Eagle Services Asia, an aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) joint venture between Singapore Airlines (SIA) Engineering Company and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Pratt & Whitney.
There were apparently two rounds of retrenchment over three days and a total of 144 workers have been laid off.
The first round happened unexpectedly on July 22, and affected 31 workers. Some of these 31 workers were called to the office at around 10AM in the morning and told they’ve been let go.
According to an anonymous source, the company had failed to explain how many workers would be affected, thus causing anxiety amongst the workers for quite a few days. He also said that NTUC had subsequently intervened to start discussions with the management.
And then the second round happened on July 24 and this time, another 114 workers were let go.
Some of the workers affected in this second round were not able to even enter the premises and had to understand the situation from the union representatives. Word has it that after negotiations between the management and the union, some of these workers were allowed to wait for further news at home on no-pay leave.
Workers at Eagle Services Asia unhappy with how company handled retrenchment exercise
Workers have called out the company’s tactics as being overly “radical”. Affected staff only got to know they were on the list of retrenched staff when they got to work, and told to pack and clear out immediately after being notified.
The workers are upset that there was no prior notice, and also no clarification on the selection criteria nor on the retrenchment benefits. Instead, the company was just chasing and pushing for the retrenched workers to quickly leave the premises.
One of the workers was visibly worked up when he was interviewed,
“I can understand the need for the company to retrench workers, but they should at least show us some respect!”
The reporter from the Chinese media managed to speak to another retrenched worker and he, too, was very upset and kept expressing how very disappointed he was. There were many long-time staff amongst the first round of retrenchment and he felt that the company’s way of managing the exercise was inappropriate.
“This is a good company, and I’m very grateful that it has provided me with a livelihood all these years. But this final treatment of staff has been truly disappointing. It feels as though the management does not respect us at all.”
Another retrenched worker also shared,
“The aviation sector has been hit badly by COVID-19, and I can understand the need to cut staff. But for sure the process can be better managed, and also should let us know the reasons for choosing to retrench us.”
Veteran workers lamented about how they’d worked hard for decades, but at the end, they had a feeling of being “escorted” out without even a chance to say goodbye to their other long-time colleagues.
One of the retrenched workers told the reporter that amongst the 31 retrenched in the first round, quite some of them were long-time workers whose health conditions are no longer as good and fit as before.
This worker also shared that one of them retrenched on 22nd had worked in the company for over 40 years. Understandably, he would have accumulated quite some personal items in the office and needed more time to pack. But the management just keep urging him to hurry up and leave. That staff shot back with,
“Don’t I even get a chance to say goodbye?”
The atmosphere turned awkward momentarily.
NTUC on Eagle Services Asia retrenchment: Multi-way negotiations still underway
According to Zaobao, a spokesperson from NTUC has replied that multi-way discussions are still underway and there is no conclusion yet.
Parties to the multi-way discussions include the Air Transport Executive Staff Union (AESU), SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU), Singapore Airlines Staff Union (SIASU) as well as the management of Eagle Services Asia.
However, NTUC’s spokesperson said NTUC is unable to share more details at the moment since they are still in the midst of discussion.
The labour movement’s objectives are clear though.
“Our foremost priority and duty right now is to ensure that workers’ dignity is protected and for them to receive fair treatment from the company.”
We hope the retrenched Eagle Services Asia workers get closure as to why they have been retrenched, and also for their unions to successfully fight for fair treatment and fair retrenchment benefits. For those who choose to continue to work, NTUC’s Job Security Council (JSC) and NTUC’s e2i should be able to help them secure new employment, or help them to acquire new skills for new jobs.
We also hope that companies will adopt the three principles of NTUC’s Fair Retrenchment Framework – protecting Singaporean core, preserving jobs and providing job support – in the unfortunate event of retrenchment exercises.