No clear evidence of rise in unfair layoffs

Number of appeals handled account for a small proportion of retrenchments in 2015 and 2016 so far: Lim Swee Say

Retrenchments may be creeping up, but there is no clear evidence that irresponsible or unfair ones are on the rise, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament yesterday.

In the first nine months of this year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) handled 14 appeals - out of a total of 63 retrenchment-related cases - from workers who felt they had been retrenched unfairly or denied retrenchment compensation.

Last year, the ministry had handled 15 appeals out of 94 such cases.

"On the whole, these cases account for a small proportion of the total number of local employees retrenched in 2015 and 2016 so far," said Mr Lim in response to questions from Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) on retrenchments.

Some 11,890 workers were retrenched in the first nine months of this year, compared to 8,590 in the same period last year. In total, 13,440 workers were retrenched last year.

  • RETRENCHMENT CASES HANDLED BY MANPOWER MINISTRY

  • 14

    Number of appeals in the first nine months of this year

    15

    Number of appeals last year

Said Mr Lim: "We expect the number this year to be higher due to ongoing business restructuring and slowing economic growth."

Of the 29 retrenchment-related appeal cases MOM handled both this year and last, the laid-off workers in 28 of them were not entitled to retrenchment payments. In some cases they had worked for less than two years, in others their contracts did not spell out such payments or they did not have unions representing them.

In the single remaining case, MOM is helping the worker to resolve the issue, he said.

Under Singapore's labour laws, workers who have worked for less than two years are not entitled to retrenchment payments.

Employers have to compensate retrenched workers only if such payments are spelt out in employment contracts or collective agreements with unions.

Mr Lim also cited a 2013 survey conducted by MOM which showed that nine out of 10 companies with more than 25 staff paid retrenchment benefits.

"The prevailing norm at that time was two weeks to one month of salary for each year of service," he said, adding that the ministry is currently conducting another survey and that the findings will be ready by the end of this year.

Mr Lim's comments in the House yesterday came one week after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reassured workers that those laid off will get help from the Government.

The labour movement and MOM will ensure they are treated fairly, and will match them with available jobs, Mr Lee said in a speech to unionists last Tuesday.

Mr Lim also said in the House yesterday that MOM is having discussions with unions and employers about the ways in which the retrenchment reporting system can be updated.

Companies do not have to inform MOM before laying off workers, under Singapore labour laws.

Without giving details of the closed-door talks, Mr Lim said: "We are aware of the different positions of the unions and employers on this, but MOM believes that we can find a way forwards for the interests of retrenched workers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'No clear evidence of rise in unfair layoffs'. Print Edition | Subscribe