NTUC and unions stepped in to halt retrenchment at Eagle Services Asia (Updated with ESA’s response)

By July 29, 2020Current, Work

TL;DR – The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted.

So last night, we published an article on the Eagle Services Asia (ESA) retrenchment story.

SIA Engineering JV, Eagle Services Asia, could have handled the retrenchment with more heart

An hour or so after we had published that, the media reported that Eagle Services Asia has updated that retrenchment is not confirmed, and that all staff are still on payroll.

The Straits Times article had reported that the company was “locked in negotiations with the unions to find ways to keep as many jobs as possible, even as it put some of its staff on temporary paid leave to wait for the outcome”.

JUST IN: Latest update from NTUC and the aerospace and aviation cluster unions

NTUC and unions in the aerospace and aviation cluster have released a statement to state their position on protecting workers from unfair retrenchment practices.

These details have been revealed in their statement:

On 22 July 2020, in spite of ongoing negotiations since early July with the Air Transport Executive Staff Union (AESU), SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU), and Singapore Airlines Staff Union (SIASU), the management of Eagle Services Asia Pte Ltd (ESA) proceeded to release specific employees, before finalising the name list with the union.

When the unions were alerted that ESA management had gone ahead to start informing employees that they may be retrenched, NTUC and the unions took decisive action and stepped in to stop any further action by the company until an agreement could be reached. The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted.

As NTUC and the unions continued negotiations with ESA, the unions also engaged their members concurrently. With the authorisation from NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, the unions conducted a secret ballot to sanction legal industrial action to rectify any shortcomings and improve the retrenchment process, if and where necessary. Members gave unions overwhelming support.

Through conversations with NTUC and union leaders, the management of ESA, which is a unionised company under these three unions representing different groups of employees – administrative officers, engineers and technicians, conceded that the retrenchment process could have been better managed.

As a result of negotiations with ESA management, NTUC and the unions managed to secure better outcomes for the affected employees:

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1) Unions and ESA management jointly reviewed the selection criteria and names of employees to be retrenched to ensure that as far as possible, the Singaporean Core is safeguarded, whilst giving due considerations to foreign workers.

2) Whilst the compensation package offered to the affected employees by the company was fair, the unions further negotiated for an additional training grant for all affected union members.

3) NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) were on-site to provide support and help match affected employees to job placement opportunities.

4) Union leaders were on-site to assist affected employees and to provide support during this difficult time.

In its statement, NTUC stressed that while retrenchments may be inevitable, companies must exhaust all other options before making the call to retrench employees.

In the event of retrenchment, companies must ensure openness, transparency and consultation with unions and workers, and observe the guiding principles outlined in NTUC’s Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF) and the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment.

Very strong words from the labour chief

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng has also published a Facebook post where he said,

“While NTUC respects management’s needed measures to keep the business viable, we will stand up for our workers’ dignity, interests and fair play. In so doing, NTUC pursues a collaborative approach with the Fair Retrenchment Framework.”

That’s not all.

It’s clear he meant business.

For he had gone on that in order for everyone to understand that NTUC will stand up to protect our workers, he has authorised the unions to prepare for industrial action should it become necessary to persuade management not to take unilateral decisions.

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“We wanted a fair negotiation. The three unions conducted a secret ballot and workers gave overwhelming support to pursue legal industrial action.”

Do you know what “industrial action” means?

It means potentially can go on strike, WHOA.

Explainer: What is Industrial Action? Why 3 unions involved in Eagle Services Asia retrenchment?

The Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF): One cardinal rule + 3 principles

This “drama” came five days after NTUC proposed a set of guidelines for fair retrenchment practices. The labour movement has named this the Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF).

The framework proposes a cardinal rule of retrenchment as a last resort. And if retrenchment, inevitably, has to happen after consolidation, cost-cutting and alternative manpower arrangements, etc, have been exhausted, then it proposes that companies follow three key principles.

  1. Protecting Singaporean Core – help Singaporeans to keep their jobs while due considerations are given to foreign workers
  2. Preserving Jobs – early intervention to cut costs, and save as many jobs as possible
  3. 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

Updated @11:00PM | Response from Pratt & Whitney spokesperson:

“Employee departures are never easy, and this decision was not taken lightly. This is unfortunately a result of current market conditions we are facing, including customer driven volume declines due to a generational pandemic no one could foresee.

Due to the current global and business environment and as part of our efforts to manage costs, we have been forced to reduce the number of employees in our Singapore workforce. This comes after having already implemented many cost containment measures, such as a temporary salary reduction and short work week, cancelled merit increases, hiring freezes and discretionary spending cuts.

Pratt & Whitney has been focused on investing in our employees and business with the critical skills necessary to meet the changing needs of customers; invested in 21st century manufacturing and aftermarket technology; and initiated a cultural transformation to encourage our employees to reach their maximum potential to meet today’s market.”


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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots, and I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published. Oh, I argue a lot with fellow Singaporeans who complain incessantly about Singapore too.

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