Following Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP’s) response to the correction order that was issued to the party by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the ministry has responded with a rebuttal of its own.
On 15 December, just a day after a fourth correction order was issued to the SDP for two Facebook posts and one article on the SDP website relating to retrenchment of professionals, managers, experts and technicians (PMETs) in Singapore, SDP published a follow-up Facebook post to explain the basis of its earlier assertions which MOM took issue with.
SDP had explained that the statements it made were “based on publicly available information”, citing several news reports on the subject including from Yahoo!, Business Insider, and Straits Times (ST).
SDP had included an excerpt from an ST article published on 15 March which said: “Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up about three in four or 76 per cent of the locals – Singaporeans and permanent residents – who were retrenched last year, the highest figure in at least a decade. It rose from 72 per cent in 2017 and is significantly higher than the share of PMETs in the resident workforce, which is about 57 per cent.”
The report includes a figure labelled: “PMETs make up growing share of locals laid off” with MOM stated as its source, said SDP.
The party continued, “As the said newspaper is a government-controlled newspaper, we have no reason to believe that it would publish fake news about the government. As such, the MOM should take the matter up with the ST. If the ST states that its information, or the interpretation of it, is incorrect, we would be happy to amend our statement correspondingly.”
In its response on the same day, MOM said in a statement that the ST report meant that among all retrenched locals, the number of PMETs among them has risen.
“This is fundamentally different from what the SDP says, which is that among Singapore PMETs (1,254,000 in 2018), the number getting retrenched has risen,” said MOM.
It went on to say that “SDP’s statement is wrong” as the number of retrenched local PMETs had declined from 6,460 in 2015 to 5,360 in 2018.
MOM also noted that ST had subsequently published a report on MOM’s explanation of the context of those numbers in Parliament on 1 April 2019. “The Parliamentary response stated that there are now more locals employed in PMET jobs,” said MOM, adding that as a result, more of the locals affected by retrenchment exercises could be PMETs.
MOM then again asserted that retrenchments have not been rising and that the number of local PMETs retrenched in 2018 was the lowest it has been since 2014.
MOM explained that the two key points it highlighted in the correction notice were that there is no rising trend of local PMET retrenchment and that local PMET employment has increased consistently and continues to do so.
“This is very different from the picture painted by the SDP,” slammed MOM.
The ministry concluded its statement by saying that its current response to SDP’s 15 December Facebook post is “not intended to provide an exhaustive response”, adding that they note SDP’s compliance with the correction direction and the party’s intention to appeal for the cancellation of the direction.
Disguised retrenchment and MOM’s data
The conversation about retrenchment isn’t novel. Back in 2016, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) expressed concern over ‘disguised retrenchments’, which is a trend among companies to circumvent existing labour laws by disguising the intent of job termination.
Mr Patrick Tay, NTUC assistant secretary-general, who is also a Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, said in October 2016 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, said Mr Tay.
He said that there was a need to pay attention to cases of retrenchment disguised as voluntary resignations and ‘golden handshakes’.
He had urged the Government to pay more attention to the issue to get better information on layoff numbers.
While the Employment Act requires companies to notify the MOM about retrenchment exercises within five working days of notifying the retrenched employees, companies do not have to inform the government about upcoming retrenchment, though they are encouraged to do so.
Also noteworthy is that this requirement applies to companies that employ at least 10 employees and retrench at least five of its employees within a six month period.
A MOM spokesperson told TODAY earlier in October this year that the notification from the companies allows the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation to “monitor the employment landscape, engage retrenching companies on responsible retrenchment practices and provide retrenched employees with employment facilitation assistance.”
Some of the way retrenchment is disguised include employees being asked to resign voluntarily when companies face trouble – this often involves firms telling its employees that termination ‘will not look good’ on them. The other modus includes contracts being terminated for reasons of ‘poor performance’ – this is obvious when the ‘poor performance’ rating comes abruptly after consistently good ratings.
Such as in the case of Surbana Jurong in January 2017 in which employees were given two letters to choose from after meeting their Human Resources (HR) department – it was a choice of either a letter of termination or a letter of resignation.
Workers who spoke to TOC on the condition of anonymity said that they were informed on 5 January 2017 to meet with the HR department the following day, with no mention of what the meeting would be about. At the meeting, workers were handed two letters – termination and resignation – for them to choose from. If they chose the resignation letter, all they had to do was sign it for it to take effect. If the worker did not opt for resignation, the company would serve them the letter of termination instead.
Worker of employable age (under 62) were compelled to take the option of the resignation on the basis that a termination would leave a bad mark on their employment history.