Number of complaints about unfair retrenchment remains low

Office workers in the central business district.
Office workers in the central business district. PHOTO: ST FILE

The number of complaints by workers to the authorities about being unfairly retrenched has remained low, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Still, the ministry will act on any complaint made about discriminatory retrenchment practices, its spokesman told The Sunday Times.

"In the current economic climate... some amount of consolidation and retrenchments may be inevitable," MOM said. Retrenchment is a difficult time for those affected, it added, saying: "It is important that employers treat employees with dignity and respect during a retrenchment exercise."

Parliament will debate tomorrow what steps the Government will take to ensure companies treat retrenched workers fairly. The House will also discuss the projected retrenchments for this year.

A total of 11,890 workers have been retrenched for the first nine months of this year, the latest labour market report showed. Another 1,720 contract workers were released early. Last year, 13,450 workers were retrenched, and another 2,140 contract workers were let go.

MOM did not give figures for how many lodged complaints.

Employment is also expected to fall. Latest official figures show employment fell by 3,300 between July and September this year, mainly due to a decline in the number of work permit holders.

It is the second time since the 2009 global financial crisis that employment for a three-month period contracted. The first was last year when employment fell by 6,100 between January and March.

The tepid labour market prompted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to reassure workers last week that those laid off will get help from the Government.The labour movement and MOM will also ensure they are treated fairly, and will match them with available jobs, Mr Lee said in a speech to unionists.

But under Singapore labour laws, companies do not have to inform MOM before laying off workers. Neither do they have to pay these workers retrenchment benefits.

There is a set of guidelines that appeals to employers to treat retrenched workers with respect and dignity. It was issued in May by the MOM, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation.

But the guidelines are similarly not binding on companies.

Two in three workers here are in non-unionised companies.

Workers in unionised companies are better off because procedures are in place for the management to give advance notice to unions on its intention to retrench workers, said an NTUC spokesman.

"Union would have ensured the management has explored other cost-cutting measures before laying off workers," the spokesman said. He added: "We do not receive (any) complaint cases on retrenchments in unionised companies."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 06, 2016, with the headline 'Number of complaints about unfair retrenchment remains low'. Print Edition | Subscribe