Surbana says workers' dismissal 'could have been better managed'

Unions are seeking ex-gratia payments; MOM says that investigations are still ongoing

Infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong yesterday acknowledged that the process of dismissing 54 of its workers earlier this month "could have been better managed".

The company, which employs about 3,000 staff here, drew criticism for not following due process when it terminated the services of the workers, whom Surbana claimed had performed poorly.

In a joint statement with union bodies Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union (Siseu) and Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union (Batu), Surbana said they are working closely to provide an "equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement" for the affected workers and to help them find new employment. Surbana's management team met the unions on Monday.

The statement noted: "Surbana Jurong and the unions also made a commitment to work on strengthening labour management relations."

The laying off of the 54 workers - which Surbana said is not a retrenchment exercise - had riled unionists. In a Facebook post last Friday, Batu president Nasordin Mohd Hashim wrote: "Usually, before a union member is terminated, the details of the case would be officially given to the union to ensure our members will be given fair treatment and that due process is followed."

RESOLVE MATTERS AMICABLY

Companies that are unionised should value and nurture close and strong labour-management relationship, strengthen communications and consult with their unions regularly, especially during this period of economic uncertainty and restructuring.

MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

However, he said "this was not observed" in the Surbana Jurong case, adding that 18 of the 54 workers were union members.

His post was shared by National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari.

The posts came after the media reported a strongly-worded e-mail in which Surbana Jurong group chief executive Wong Heang Fine told staff that the dismissed workers were a small group of "poor performers" who could not be allowed to weigh down the rest of the organisation.

In a separate statement yesterday, Batu and Siseu said they are in ongoing discussions with Surbana "to seek reasonable ex-gratia payment" for the affected workers.

Following the joint statement by Surbana and the unions, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said the commitment to resolve the matter amicably is "positive and constructive" but added that investigations are still ongoing. It said the outcome of the investigations will apply to all the affected non-unionised workers even if they have not come to MOM for assistance.

It reminded companies intending to dismiss workers to conduct the process in a fair, sensitive and responsible manner.

"Companies that are unionised should value and nurture close and strong labour-management relationship, strengthen communications and consult with their unions regularly, especially during this period of economic uncertainty and restructuring," MOM added.

Surbana told The Straits Times that any assistance measures agreed upon with the unions will be extended to all 54 affected workers.

A former worker who claimed he left Surbana last year - after being given an ultimatum to resign or face the sack - was disappointed that he would not get any help. "A group of us was forced to resign. We are not among the 54 workers who have been reported. We feel left out."

Surbana employs about 13,000 employees globally. Its headcount was boosted after making several acquisitions last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Surbana says workers' dismissal 'could have been better managed''. Print Edition | Subscribe