Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has said that there is no clear evidence of rising cases of irresponsible retrenchment in Singapore.
Mr Lim said this in Parliament on 7 November, in response to questions from Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Tan Wu Meng, who had asked how the ministry is planning to address rising cases of ‘disguised retrenchments’, a trend to disguise the intent of job termination by companies to circumvent paying fair benefits.
Minister Lim said, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had received 94 cases from employees with retrenchment-related issues last year.
Of these, 15 appeals came from employees who have been dismissed but felt that they were retrenched and denied of their retrenchment benefits.
For the first nine months of 2016, the MOM saw 14 appeals out of 63 retrenchment-related cases.
“Overall, these cases make up a small proportion of the total number of layoffs in 2015 and 2016 so far,” Mr Lim said.
He explained that in all but one appeal, the workers were either not entitled to retrenchment benefits as they have worked less than 2 years, or there were no retrenchment benefits specified in their contracts or collective agreements.
The MOM is helping the worker to resolve the issue of the remaining appeal, Mr Lim said.
Under the Employment Act, an employee who has served less than 2 years is not entitled to retrenchment benefits.
For those who have worked more than 2 years, payment of retrenchment benefits will be mandatory, if it is specified in their individual employment contracts, or in the collective agreements negotiated by their unions.
Mr Lim assured, “Public sector agencies have signed the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices since 2007. They will continue to abide by tripartite guidelines to carry out restructuring responsibly and in consultation with public sector unions.”
Caused by the wavering economic growth and restructuring in some business sectors, Mr Lim said he expects retrenchment figures in Singapore this year to be higher than 2015.
The MOM’s preliminary labour market data for the third quarter released last month shows 11,890 workers have been retrenched for the first three quarters of 2016, while in the same period last year it was only 8,590. In total, 13,440 workers were retrenched last year.
Responding to a supplementary question from MP Seah Kian Peng about anticipating the likelihood of rising layoffs, Mr Lim said that the MOM has been working with tripartite partners to provide more support for retrenched workers.
Mr Lim said, “We recognise that retrenchment will be a difficult experience for our retrenched workers and that’s why our tripartite has put in place a Special Task Force (STF) since early this year. As and when there’s any retrenchment exercise, our task force will engage the employer, workers and the union, to first ensure that the retrenchment is carried out in a fair manner.”
Negotiations for retrenchment benefits have been conducted with unionised companies, while the STF tries to do mediation with non-unionised companies as well, Mr Lim added.
Aside of that, the STF has also helped employers and unions to organise career fairs for the displaced workers.
“Under this special arrangement, the MOM has given assistance to around 3,300 workers for the first three quarters of 2016. Nearly 2,000 have secured new jobs,” he explained.
“We are trying to support retrenched workers the best we can. Our main objective is to ensure retrenched workers are able to go back to work as quickly as possible because the longer you stay out of job, the harder it’ll be to come back to work.”
“And that’s the reason why the MOM is now exploring with the unions and employers to strengthen the retrenchment reporting framework because we believe with more timely reporting, we will be able to reach out to these retrenched workers earlier and help them even more,” Mr Lim stated.
TOC had earlier reported, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) expressed its concern over ‘disguised retrenchments’. Mr Patrick Tay, NTUC assistant secretary-general, who is also a Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, said that he was unhappy about such disguised layoffs because firms get away with not having to pay workers retrenchment benefits. It also allows them to avoid bad press or business repercussions if the word gets out.
At the present, firms do not have to inform the government of any upcoming retrenchment, although they are encouraged to do so.
Retrenchment benefits are not obligatory under the law, and the quantum depends on the agreements between employers and employees. It is to be negotiated between the two parties if there was no clause on it.