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askST: When layoffs are inevitable, a sensitive approach goes a long way

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices advises employers on responsible retrenchment practices

Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), retrenchment, employment, jobs
All employers are expected to adhere to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment if a retrenchment exercise is unavoidable. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Q: My business has been adversely affected and I am unable to keep all my staff despite my best efforts in retraining and redeploying excess manpower and adopting other cost-saving measures. How can I let go of my workers in a responsible and sensitive way?

A: Retrenchment is a difficult time for all, especially for affected employees and their families. It should therefore be carried out with great care in ensuring that employees are treated with respect.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) urges employers to adhere to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment.

Here are some highlights from the Advisory:

Timely, open communication and treating employees with empathy and respect are crucial during retrenchment.

Inform affected employees about the exercise early and before the announcement goes public so they can be mentally prepared. By informing them early, employers can help affected employees through the transition period such as by facilitating their job search.

Employers should also ensure that salaries and retrenchment benefit are paid by the last day of work. Employers can link affected employees up with e2i's Employability Coach to aid their job search.

Going the extra mile during this difficult time will speak volumes about you as an employer. In helping retrenched employees with their job search, employers can also support them by providing testimonials, referral letters, service records and past training certificates, where relevant.

Employers should try to address the concerns or needs of employees who remain in employment to keep their morale up and maintain their trust.

Q: How can one tell if an employer has handled a retrenchment appropriately?

A: All employers are expected to adhere to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment if a retrenchment exercise is unavoidable. Importantly, employers should take a long-term view of their manpower needs - including the need to maintain a strong Singaporean core.

Some of the recommended practices are:

  • Considering if the business situation calls for a retrenchment;
  • Tapping government support, reskilling and redeploying employees where possible, and implementing other alternatives before carrying out a retrenchment exercise;
  • Communicating the company's business situation and plans clearly and respectfully to employees;
  • Offering support to affected employees, which can include aiding their job search and providing retrenchment benefit; and
  • Notifying the Ministry of Manpower and unions of the retrenchment exercise in line with the Employment Act

Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), jobs, employment, retrenchment

As stated in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, employers should not discriminate against any particular group on grounds of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibility, or disability.

For instance, older workers, as well as re-employed and pregnant employees, should not be unfairly targeted.

If there are disputes, the employer should be prepared to provide relevant information to justify that their retrenchment practices abide by the tripartite advisories.

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Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep)

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