NTUC and airline unions stepped in recently to halt the retrenchment exercise at Eagle Services Asia Pte Ltd (ESA) as the company “did not follow due process” when it started informing employees in early July that they may be retrenched while negotiations with unions were still ongoing.
ESA is a joint venture between the SIA Engineering Company and an American aerospace manufacturers Pratt & Whitney. The unions involved are AirTransport Executive Staff Union (AESU), SIA Engineering Company Engineers, and Executives Union (SEEU).
In joint statement on Thursday (29 July), NTUC said that the parties were in the middle of finalising the namelist of employees to be retrenched. However, the unions were alerted by union members that the company had gone ahead to start the retrenchment process anyway. That is when NTUC and the three unions stepped in to halt the exercise.
In the joint statement, NTUC slammed ESA, saying, “The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted.”
According to SEEU’s general secretary Ong Hwee Liang, several members of his union were called in for a meeting only to be informed that they were being laid off on the same day. He expressed that this move was “unacceptable” to him and other union leaders.
“I was very disturbed by the way it was handled by the management,” said Mr Ong in a video conference organised by NTUC after the joint statement was released.
NTUC deputy secretary general and executive secretary of SEEU Cham Hui Fong stated that he has never seen a retrenchment done in the midst of negotiation.
“I’ve handled so many retrenchments and I have never seen a retrenchment where in the midst of negotiation, you let go of people,” he noted.
Mr Cham added that the unions had found that ESA was planning to let go of 144 employees, 56 per cent of which were Singaporeans.
Once the retrenchment was halted, the unions and the company continued with negotiations. Eventually, they managed to cut down the number of Singaporeans being retrenched to 44 per cent, though now the retrenchments may affect more than 144 employees.
In its statement, NTUC said that the unions, with the authorisation of NTUC Secretary General Ng Chee Meng, conducted a secret ballot to sanction legal industrial action so as to rectify any shortcomings and improve the retrenchment process.
It continued, “In the interests of the employees and company, ESA management took advice from NTUC and the unions, corrected the retrenchment process and accorded due respect to the rights of employees and to the union leaders.”
Eventually, both sides agreed that the final namelist of employees to be retrenched would be jointly reviewed by the unions and ESA to safeguard the “Singaporean Core” while giving due consideration to foreign employees.
They also managed to negotiate additional training grant for all affected union members on top of the compensation package of one month salary for every year served, capped at 25 months and three years of medical coverage.
NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) were also present to provide support to affected employees and help match them to job placement opportunities.