SINGAPORE - More than 440 creditors are owed at least $31.7 million by department store stalwart Robinsons, which is closing down its last two stores here in The Heeren and Raffles City Shopping Centre.
In a notice issued to creditors dated last Friday (Nov 13) by provisional liquidator KordaMentha, hardly any individuals were named as creditors but it said that potential employee claims amounted to about $4.4 million.
The largest amount owed, about $7.2 million, is to Swee Cheng Holdings, the landlord of Robinsons' Heeren outlet, according to the notice that KordaMentha released publicly on Wednesday.
When contacted, Swee Cheng Holdings said it was still in discussions with the liquidator and could not provide more details.
The next largest amounts of about $4.2 million each are owed to two more businesses, Lendlease Retail Investment 3 and an entity linked to RCS Trust.
Lendlease is the landlord of Jem mall, where Robinsons closed an outlet in August, while RCS Trust owns Raffles City Shopping Centre where Robinsons has another store.
Mattress companies such as Simmons, Sealy, Serta and Tempur are also among the 442 creditors listed in the notice.
Simmons told The Straits Times that the amount it is owed by Robinsons exceeds the $35,000 recorded in the notice, but declined to disclose the total sum.
Mattress companies are owed money by Robinsons for mattresses consumers had paid the department store for but have yet to receive. Six mattress companies have said they will honour the purchases by customers.
Robinsons said on Oct 30 that it had decided to liquidate its Heeren and Raffles City stores due to factors like changing consumer tastes and cost pressures such as rent. The Covid-19 pandemic played a part as well, it said.
KordaMentha will take control of Robinsons' assets and assess the options to realise value to maximise returns to creditors.
An online creditors' meeting will be called next Thursday at 2pm to appoint a committee of inspection of not more than five members to represent the interests of the creditors. During the meeting, creditors will also receive a statement of Robinsons' affairs, said the notice by the liquidator.
Lawyers have said previously that when companies wind down, they are bound by the law to pay creditors such as banks they owe money to or former employees, with customers last in line.
Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said companies are separate legal entities from their owners and shareholders.
"Even when a company goes into liquidation, debts owed by the company will not be borne by its owner or shareholders," he said.
Still, the owners or shareholders can choose to pay off the debts even though they do not have any legal obligation, but this rarely happens, he said.
Dubai-based Al-Futtaim Group is Robinsons' parent company. The group owns other franchises like Marks & Spencer and Zara.
Robinsons' creditors have until 4pm next Wednesday to submit documents on the amount owed to them to the liquidator if they want to be eligible to vote at the creditor's meeting.
Those who wish to attend the meeting should also e-mail the liquidator at firstname.lastname@example.org
KordaMentha on Wednesday also said that the amounts listed on its notice do not include those owed to mattress customers because they were owed goods.
Some of them have filed complaints. The Consumers Association of Singapore said that between Oct 30 and Wednesday, it received 45 consumer complaints against Robinsons Singapore.
Of these, 30 were complaints about mattresses which cost between $200 and $12,097.
Meanwhile, at least 11 former Robinsons employees have approached the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management for help after Robinsons announced its liquidation.
"They are uncertain about payment of retrenchment benefit, salary-in-lieu of notice and encashment of unconsumed annual leave," an MOM spokesman said last Friday.
According to MOM, all Robinsons employees have received their October salaries which the retailer said earlier that it would pay in full.
A maximum sum of $13,000 can be disbursed to each employee by the liquidator as provided for in the Insolvency, Restructuring and Dissolution Act.
"Claims in excess of $13,000 will be separately assessed by the liquidator together with filings from other creditors," the MOM said.
Nine former Robinsons employees told ST that they received their termination letters at The Heeren on Oct 30 after they attended a townhall held virtually earlier in the day.
The letters, dated Oct 29, informed them that Robinsons could no longer employ them and that "the company has implemented an employee assistance programme" conducted by human resource company PersolKelly Consulting.
Many of the former workers were worried about whether they could be compensated and if they could find another job with the current downturn due to Covid-19.
One former employee, who only wanted to be known as Ms Yun, said that she is considering doing part-time jobs at $10 per hour to support her two young children aged two and six.
Another former employee Apple (not her real name) said she has been able to sleep for only about three hours every night due to stress after being let go by Robinsons.
"My phone rang non-stop for days after Robinsons' announcement, with many suppliers wanting to know what will happen to them," she added.
"I only had time to think about my own situation three to four days later."