Surbana chided for publicly labelling laid-off workers as poor performers

MANPOWER MINISTER LIM SWEE SAY, on the manner in which Surbana Jurong laid off 54 workers last month.
MANPOWER MINISTER LIM SWEE SAY, on the manner in which Surbana Jurong laid off 54 workers last month.

Surbana Jurong was rapped yesterday by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say for publicly labelling its employees "poor performers" when they were fired early last month.

Mr Lim said the manner in which the infrastructure consultancy had laid off 54 workers, then criticised them in a strongly worded letter to staff and a statement to the media, was unacceptable.

In all his years in the labour movement and Ministry of Manpower, (MOM), it was the first time he had seen such behaviour, he told the House. "I do not find it acceptable... I hope we will not come across another case where a company has a major termination and labels the employees as poor performers publicly."

He added that employers may have a part to play when employees are not up to the mark. "Yes, it may be poor performance in one organisation. But it does not mean a person cannot do well in other places."

Surbana drew criticism for not following due process when it terminated the services of the workers. It later acknowledged that the process could have been better managed.

UNACCEPTABLE MOVE

I hope we will not come across another case where a company has a major termination and labels the employees as poor performers publicly.

MANPOWER MINISTER LIM SWEE SAY, on the manner in which Surbana Jurong laid off 54 workers last month.

Four MPs asked about the episode, including Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who said the individuals may find it very difficult to look for another job, having been publicly criticised. Mr Lim agreed, and said this is why employers who want to fire workers for poor performance should do so in a responsible and sensitive manner.

Laying out guidelines in response to questions from Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) and Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Lim said employers must be able to substantiate their claim of poor performance.

They should use relevant and objective criteria, which all employees must know of, and must also keep records of performance. Termination is unlawful if an employer is unable to show documented evidence.

The employer may be ordered to reinstate the employee, or to provide compensation, Mr Lim said. He urged employers to consult unions which the employees are a part of.

He said there is no need for employees to access their employer's evidence if they feel they have been unfairly fired. They need only to file an appeal with MOM, which will then look into the matter.

Mr Lim said MOM receives more than 200 such appeals a year, most of which are resolved through mediation. Inquiries are held for about 30 cases a year. On average, employers are ordered to compensate employees in about 10 cases every year.

In the case of Surbana, the management and unions have reached a settlement, and will give the affected workers an ex gratia payment.

Mr Lim said it was a fair settlement, in MOM's view.

A Surbana statement yesterday said: "We have resolved the matter fairly and amicably with the unions. We are currently reviewing our performance management processes to improve the system, including communicating with our employees more frequently."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2017, with the headline 'Surbana chided for publicly labelling laid-off workers as poor performers'. Print Edition | Subscribe