SINGAPORE: Mandatory retrenchment notifications have helped organisations under the Labour Movement provide assistance to retrenched workers more effectively, according to Mr Tan Choon Shian, chairman of the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation.
The mandatory retrenchment notification kicked off in January this year. It requires employers to submit a notification to the Manpower Ministry within five working days after the employee has been alerted to their retrenchment.
This applies to employers who employ at least 10 employees and retrench five or more employees within any six month period beginning Jan 1, 2017.
“In our experience, if we are able to reach out to workers earlier, our success rates improves,” said Mr Tan, who is also the CEO of Workforce Singapore. “So we are particularly happy that the mandatory notification is now in place, so we can reach out to the larger group of workers as soon as possible.”
The taskforce, which was set up a year ago, comprises members from the Manpower Ministry, Workforce Singapore, National Trade Union Congress and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
According to Mr Tan, the taskforce has helped about 230 retrenched workers find jobs since the start of this year.
Its formation comes at a time when redundancy numbers in Singapore have reached more than 19,000, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009, when almost 23,500 people were retrenched.
Number of redundancies from 2006 to 2016 (Source: Manpower Ministry)
Mr Tan explained how the taskforce gets involved: “With the company’s permission, and if the affected number of employees is large, we will try to organise an onsite event within the company – to explain (what’s happening) to the affected staff. And for many of the staff, I think it’s possibly the first time they are looking for a job after many years.”
That’s where career coaches will also be deployed to help such workers who may not be familiar with the job search process and the current job market, he added.
Mr Tan said that the agencies are also prepared to bring in employers of a similar sector to help the retrenched. “We’ve done our research so that even on the spot, they can start some of the discussions.”
NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay said some of the sectors that had seen layoffs include the financial institutions, as well as retail businesses that had been hit hard by competition from e-commerce platforms.
Offshore and marine industries were also been hit by low crude oil prices.
Said Mr Tay: “Moving ahead in 2017, of course many quarters are not optimistic that oil prices will jump up to US$ 70, to US$ 80 dollars per barrel, so oil and gas and offshore and marine – these few sectors – continue to face its challenges.
“The foreign financial institutions have also been rolling out some announcements in the past 18 months, so we do see some consolidation there.”
One of the people affected was Mr Ganesan Kasinathe, who said he was one of 30 people retrenched from his job in the offshore and marine industry. His company halved its staff strength in a downsizing exercise.
Mr Ganesan has since found a job with the help of career coaches from e2i.
“As you’re aware, the oil and gas industry is not exactly doing very well, and it’s not exactly a crisis happening in Singapore,” he said. “It’s actually worldwide crisis.
“I’m not angry with my ex-company for retrenching me, because if you look at it from a business point of view, I kind of feel it’s fair. It’s not exactly their fault.”
JOB MARKET VOLATILITY
Economists recently made an upwards revision on their forecast on economic growth in Singapore, but Mr Tan said the job market outlook “will remain volatile”.
“We think there is still the risk of restructuring the companies going forward. We are prepared in case the scenario gets worse, although based on what we are seeing, it’s not getting worse,” he said.
Mr Tan added that inter-agency coordination is now smoother, one year into the taskforce’s operations. “For our taskforce, it’s not about whether it will get worse (or not). If it gets worse, we are ready,” he said.
Agreeing, NTUC’s Patrick Tay said it is key retrenchments be made only as a last resort. “I think the key thing is when we face any challenges, including retrenchments or lay-offs, my appeal to employers as well as companies is that they do carry this out as a final option, to do it fairly, responsibly, progressively and also importantly, in compliance to our tripartite guidelines on managing excess manpower.”