Resorts World Sentosa to retrench staff amid 'devastating impact' of Covid-19 pandemic

RWS said that it fully understands the difficulty and anxiety this means to affected team members and their families. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
All affected workers will get "fair compensation". RWS says it is also committed to working with the Government to help identify new career opportunities for retrenched workers. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Integrated resort operator Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) is laying off a significant number of employees as it grapples with the "devastating impact" the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tourism industry.

RWS said on Wednesday (July 15) the retrenchment exercise was a "one-off workplace rationalisation" and that the company has managed to retain the vast majority of its local staff.

It is understood that about 2,000 employees were laid off, but when asked, RWS did not want to confirm any figure.

The firm had about 7,000 employees as of the end of last year.

RWS added that all affected staff will get fair compensation.

It said the decision was made after a thorough process of careful deliberation and consultation.

Tourism worldwide has been hard hit by the pandemic as countries, including Singapore, imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Noting that the pandemic's impact on tourism has been devastating, RWS said: "Its pervasive and lasting effects will accelerate shifts in the tourism industry that require significant adjustments by all travel and tourism players.

"RWS will begin the journey to adapt and transform as we stand united with Singapore to weather this crisis and prepare for the recovery of Singapore's tourism."

It added that it has been streamlining its operational resources to stay agile and respond quickly to situations in the current unpredictable climate.

"Over the past few months, we have reviewed all costs, eliminated non-essential spending and reduced the salaries of management by up to 30 per cent," said RWS.

Local workers who were retrenched by RWS will each have at least two to three job opportunities to consider.

RWS said that it has worked with a multi-agency task force, which includes the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union (AREU) and the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), to identify and match job openings to affected Singaporeans and permanent residents based on their skills and experience.

RWS added that all affected staff will get fair compensation. It is working with the Government and various agencies to help them find new jobs.

It said: "We fully understand the difficulty and anxiety this means to impacted team members and their families. We stand in solidarity with the Singapore Government in identifying all possible opportunities to help them transition smoothly to new careers."

It added that it has worked with the AREU to ensure the vast majority of its local staff have been retained during the "workforce rationalisation" exercise.

Retained staff will be trained to drive growth in its RWS 2.0 transformation.

RWS 2.0 was announced in April last year as a $4.5 billion project to revolutionise visitor experience at the integrated resort. It will add more than 164,000 sq m of gross floor area, with new facilities including a waterfront complex housing two hotels, retail establishments and additions to Universal Studios Singapore (USS).

RWS said: "We will redesign jobs across the resort with technological innovation enhancing day-to-day processes, increase productivity and create jobs with better remuneration prospects.

"RWS will also build up a passionate and entrepreneurial talent pool with a stronger Singaporean core forming three-quarters of the workforce."

Examples of new jobs include roles in predictive analytics, environmental services and entertainment support for new zones in USS.

Training will be supported by the RWS Academy, which will work with Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore to upgrade worker skills.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said the Task force for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation was aware of RWS' organisational changes and is working with AREU to help affected employees.

The task force is made up of representatives from Workforce Singapore, MOM, NTUC and e2i.

AREU and e2i said in a joint statement that they were given advance notice of RWS' retrenchment plans. They said RWS had decided on the exercise as a last resort. They also noted that RWS has fulfilled its obligations and helped workers in the past few months.

E2i added that it has invited employers from various industries to hold physical job fairs at e2i under the SGUnited Jobs initiative.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who visited RWS on Wednesday morning to speak with retrenched workers, said NTUC will continue to engage RWS on its recovery plans and transformation journey.

"We urge other employers to also tap NTUC's Job Security Council to assist workers to transit to new employment quickly," he added.

Experts said the retrenchment was not surprising, given that tourism has stopped in Singapore due to travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Associate Professor Walter Theseira, an economist from the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said: "The integrated resorts are sized for external demand... and were never designed solely for domestic demand. Since external demand has been shut off due to Covid-19, their existing levels of manpower are just not sustainable."

He added that more firms in the tourism industry are likely to retrench workers in the coming months, as there is no clear timeline yet for borders to reopen to mass tourism.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic's senior lecturer in tourism Michael Chiam said: "It will take a while for the tourism industry to recover, most probably in 2021. Most tourist establishments will offer more creative products, such as more customised products for smaller groups of guests, given the new normal and the need for safe management."

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