On 6 March, activist Gilbert Goh shared on his Facebook page an email he received from a woman named Laura who was retrenched, having lost her job to a foreigner. He also shared three images showing the email Laura sent to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding her ‘wrongful dismissal’.
Laura, who is in her 40s, noted first that she can only talk about this matter now that she’s finally received her severance payout and that both MOM and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment (TAFEP) told her that they wouldn’t be able to safeguard her payout if she decided to make the story public sooner.
In her email to Mr Goh, Laura said, “I’ve seen the government promoting discrimination against locals and safeguarding the jobs of local PMETs recently but I would like to shed a totally different light despite what the government has claimed based on my personal experience.”
Laura, who used to earn a five-figure salary described herself as “just another local PMET [professionals, managers, executives and technicians] who was retrenched recently from an MNC and being displaced by an FT [foreign talent] who is not any cheaper if not more expensive than me.”
She went on to point out that the multinational company (MNC) she worked for would also have to pay the FT’s relocation cost of maybe S$20,000 to S$30,000 which she says is “probably funded by my bonus since I’m probably going to get peanuts if not nothing.”
Laura added that the company told her that “roles have combined” and that they think the FT is “more suitable”.
She described how she was told out of the blue that she was underperforming even though her past appraisals did not indicate that at all.
She wrote, “I was simply told I had “suddenly” underperformed and after appraising, the FT is more suitable for the new role. Nothing whatsoever was documented throughout the year to indicate any underperformance on my part.”
TOC reached out to Laura who told us that she was informed in January this year by her employer that she has underperformed for the year 2019. She said, “The FT hiring manager was recently relocated to Singapore from [Hong Kong] and shortly after, he informed me that though my BAU (business as usual) is solid, I had failed to value add.”
However, Laura noted that this manager did not elaborate nor give specific examples of value-adding, simply saying that he expected her to do more than her BAU.
Aggrieved, Laura slammed the MNC for not having a proper performance appraisal system and for “simply telling people at end of the year that sorry you have underperformed, out you go.”
When asked about her previous appraisal, Laura explained that the appraisal in early 2019 for her 2018 performance was good, having received an “Achieved” rating which she says is equivalent to about 2 months’ bonus. The only bad appraisal was the most recent one.
In a follow-up interview with Laura, she told Mr Goh that redundancy was not an issue for her as she was made redundant in her previous job in an MNC. What she felt was unfair this time is how her company handled the process.
Laura said, “I was told I had to go because my role had combined with a lady from HK and she will be relocating from HK to SG to replace me. I asked if he had considered me for that combined role and he said he had appraised and think the HK lady is more suitable.”
Challenges in getting help from MOM and TAFEP
Looking for help in dealing with this difficult situation, Laura reached out to MOM. However, the ministry told her they no longer handle such disputes, according to the email screenshots. They asked her to reach out to TAFEP instead.
Laura wrote in her email to Mr Goh, “Instead of helping locals to protect their jobs, MOM perpetuates the problem by giving my job away to the FT and pass the bucket to TAFEP. If you [MOM] really prefer FT, why not get them to vote for you [the government] in the next GE? I’m sure this will be a big win for you.”
She also noted to Mr Goh that she is not part of the 70 percent who voted for the ruling government in the last general election.
Laura later said to Mr Goh, “MOM is clearly aware of all redundancies as companies need to report to them, so they approved the HK lady’s EP, granting her permission to replace me.”
“Does MOM even question the granting of an EP that is displacing a local? Simply because it is intra-company transfer so they don’t question?”
Laura also told us that she had immediately reached out to TAFEP though they took some time in getting back to her, only doing so after she also reached out to 5th Senior Minister of Singapore Teo Chee Hean and Minister of Manpower Josephine Teo. She had also threatened to go public with the story.
Eventually, someone from TAFEP called Laura and advised her that she should wait until she received her severance payout (about 2 months after being let go) before they investigated the case as they wouldn’t be able to guarantee that the company would not hold back the payout.
Laura said, “[Please] note if I don’t sign the letter from [the company] I cannot receive my payout. So what can I do?”
“MOM and TAFEP cannot guarantee my payout and company cannot give me my payout if I don’t sign on a letter that discharges them of all liabilities,” she elaborated, describing this as “corporate bullying”.
MOM should check before issuing EPs
Laura also told Mr Goh that she feels MOM should not be issuing employment passes (EPs) without first checking if a local would be replaced, whether it is an intra-company transfer or otherwise as “companies are making use of this loophole to displace locals.”
When asked what the government could do to ensure that the company do not easily displace local PMETs, Laura suggested imposing a mandatory FT to local ratio. She also suggested to do more than just placing companies on a watchlist.
She said, “I am sure this company is already on [a] watchlist but so? MOM continues to approve EPs. I do not know what MOM is watching.”
Laura also noted, “My boss is an FT and my key stakeholder is also an FT. So all FTs in my companies. Does it make sense for them to replace me with another FT? Of course.”
On the issue of what’s next for her, Laura said that she has no other choice but to keep looking.
“I know [the] government is going to ask me to re-skill but re-skill was never an issue in my case, so [please] stop giving one size fits all answer,” she lamented.
Laura added, “To-date, I blame MOM for approving that EP which caused me to lose my job.”
Laura had also highlighted that so far, none of the three ministers she emailed has responded to her.
TOC has reached out to Laura’s company to confirm the story.
We have also reached out to TAFEP but have yet to receive a response.