Faster help for laid-off workers

A new rule that requires employers to notify the Manpower Ministry of retrenchments within five working days is a timely move.

The importance of helping laid-off workers is becoming more urgent as the gloomy world economy and Singapore's economic restructuring drive up retrenchments.

The rule, which takes effect on Jan 1, will ensure that help reaches the workers sooner rather than later, because companies will have to give the ministry details of those retrenched within five working days of the fifth person being told to go, or risk penalties.

Such workers' personal particulars will be given to a multi-agency task force that will direct them to where they can get help quickly to land a job swiftly.

For instance, they may be asked to go for workshops on networking and communication skills, and offered career guidance from coaches at statutory board Workforce Singapore or the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute.

Currently, firms have to inform the ministry of the number retrenched only during its quarterly surveys, and need not give details of those laid off.

Unionised firms, however, would inform the unions before any retrenchment exercise so unions can negotiate terms and help workers look for jobs.

The new rule will affect most firms, as it applies to those with at least 10 workers and whenever five or more people are retrenched in a six-month period.

Although it does not deal with disguised retrenchment, such as outplacement, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has said workers can seek help from his ministry if they feel they have been treated unfairly.

The latest move is a boon as well to firms hungry for workers, because they can be matched faster with suitable job seekers. But the bigger boost is for the retrenched worker, facing the stress of losing a job, financial difficulties, and finding work.

The struggle is especially acute for older workers who often say they are turned away when companies find out their age. In these painful times, the sooner a person returns to work, the better.

Joanna Seow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Faster help for laid-off workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe