Parliament: MOM to bring forward and extend scope of retrenchment survey

Office workers crossing Maxwell Road in the central business district (CBD) area.
Office workers crossing Maxwell Road in the central business district (CBD) area.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Concerns about the current economic situation have led the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to bring forward to this year a retrenchment survey due next year.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday (Sept 13), Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said that the survey, which takes place every four years, will have its scope widened to cover smaller companies employing between 10 and 24 workers.

He was responding to Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who had asked what the Government can do to assist non-unionised workers whose retrenchments are carried out irresponsibly.

This could mean they were not paid retrenchment benefits, or received no notice of retrenchment.

Mr Tay also asked for more information on the types of companies paying retrenchment benefits.

Citing the most recent survey results from 2013, Mr Lim said that 90 per cent of retrenching companies paid retrenchment benefits in 2012.

Of these, 68 per cent were in the manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and financial and insurance services sectors.

Non-unionised companies made up 80 per cent, while 66 per cent were small and medium enterprises employing between 25 and 199 workers.

The survey showed that the prevailing norm was to pay a retrenchment benefit of between two weeks to one month of salary per year of service.

Mr Lim noted that the Employment Act does not mandate the payment of retrenchment benefits, and that the amount paid is up to the employer's discretion.

He pointed out, however, that the "vast majority of employers with 25 or more employees do pay retrenchment benefits commensurate with the industry norm".

He said: "Affected employees who encounter irresponsible retrenchment practices not in compliance with the Employment Act can approach MOM for assistance."

Those not covered by the Act, he added, could approach their unions, seek recourse through the Civil Courts, or go to the Employment Claims Tribunal which will be set up in April next year.

Mr Tay urged the MOM to pay more attention to cases of "disguised retrenchments", in which companies lay off people in small numbers through "golden handshake" one-off payouts or voluntary withdrawal services, without making this known to the public.

Nominated Member of Parliament K. Thanaletchimi asked whether the MOM could make it compulsory for companies to notify it whenever retrenchments occur.

Mr Lim said this was still a topic of debate, as employers are concerned such notifications would affect confidentiality.

"More importantly, we want to ensure that we can offer timely employment facilitation to those workers affected by retrenchment," he said.

He added that earlier this year, the MOM established a retrenchment response workforce together with the Employment and Employability Institute, Singapore Workforce Development Agency, and the National Trades Union Congress.

"Once we have knowledge of any retrenchment exercise, the taskforce moves in. We work with the company and the union very closely to gather info on the workers affected, their age profile, their education profile, their skills profile. We even organise job fairs in the company on site, if there's enough so-called critical mass.

"Our primary concern is to ensure that the retrenched workers will receive not just a fair retrenchment treatment, but more importantly be given the best employment support as well."