Surbana Jurong argues that dismissal of 54 staff without warning nor performance reviews, is not retrenchment exercise

Surbana Jurong argues that dismissal of 54 staff without warning nor performance reviews, is not retrenchment exercise

In a report by Straits Times on Thursday, it was revealed that an email was sent by Surbana Jurong group chief executive Wong Heang Fine on Tuesday to address the recent dismissals by the company.

Surbana Jurong Private Limited or Surbana Jurong is a newly merged entity that is a combination of Surbana International Consultants and Jurong International Holdings in 2015 and is a wholly government owned company.

Surbana International Consultants was formerly the Building and Development Division in Singapore’s Housing and Development Board which was formed in 1960, which was then corporatised as HDBCorp in 2003 and acquired by Temasek Holdings in 2004.

CEO wrote poor performers cannot be allowed to affect the rest

In the email, he told the company employees that that the group cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to be a drag on the rest of the organisation. That was why the infrastructure consultancy terminated the employment of a group of workers in Singapore over the past two weeks.

Mr Wong wrote in his email, “How can we be the best in class and build a great organisation when employees are not concerned with how they are performing relative to their peers?”.

“More importantly, for those of us who want to do great things, why should our rewards be affected by a small group of colleagues who don’t care about how their poor performance affects our performance negatively?”

“We cannot allow our 1 per cent of poor performers to continue to affect the rest of the 99 per cent of staff who are performing.”

Mr Wong in his e-mail said 54 employees were identified as poor performers – representing 0.41 per cent of Surbana Jurong’s global workforce and 0.79 per cent of its Singapore staff. They were from business units such as facility management, affordable housing, urban development, city management, infrastructure, urban planning and international headquarters.

Not a retrenchment exercise

Mr Wong added that there were no retrenchments nor was the exercise targeted at any specific business unit, community, discipline or age.

In his email, he noted that the group chairman Liew Mun Leong has spoken vehemently about poor company performance, which will drastically affect the bonuses of those business units that operated below par last year, despite efforts to grow the projects pipeline.
“(The chairman) stressed that managing this poor business performance is a responsibility for ALL of us, both managers and employees,” said Mr Wong.

Disguised retrenchment in name of dismissal of poor performers?

While Mr Wong classified the company’s dimissals as one to weed out the poor performers. But TOC understands that there had not been any performance appraisal performed for the dismissed employees before being threatened with the choice of being terminated or to resign voluntarily.
The 54 staff were told on different dates that they had a few days to think whether to be terminated by the company for alleged poor performance or to resign voluntarily by 6 January. Some were told as early as last December and some were told after coming back from a long leave in the first week of January.

Many were stunned by the company’s statement when it told the press that it had dismissed the staff for poor performance as they felt betrayed by the company for voiding the original reason of resignation so as not to affect their future job-seeking prospect.

Read: Laid off workers of Surbana Jurong given two letters to choose from, letter of termination and letter of resignation

The email by the CEO is not the first address by the company towards the dismissal of the employees, TOC understands from those who were dismissed that there had been a town hall meeting onJanuaryary as many left the company with their desks emptied without prior notification to their colleagues and had them wondering what has happened when they did not turn up for work the following Monday.

Unions and MOM investigating the matter
18 of the 54 dismissed workers are represented by Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (Batu). Batu was quoted to have said that the unions are working with Surbana on how to help the affected union members and that it is still talking with the company.

TOC understands that the Minister of Manpower has called up all the employees who are non-union members on Friday (20 Jan) and is further looking into the matter.

Based on what the affected staff have said about the treatment to them, Surbana Jurong would seemed to have violated various employment regulations pertaining to retrenchment practices.

Will the union and MOM take action on the company that is owned by the government if it is proven that it disguised a retrenchment exercise and violated the rights of its staff? Will Singapore’s self-proclaimed functioning tripartite system really work hand in hand with the lax labour laws that are present in the city-state?

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