Suntec Singapore retrenches nearly half its employees, with events suspended since April

Affected workers from Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre receiving support following the retrenchment exercise on Aug 27, 2020. PHOTO: NTUC

SINGAPORE - Nearly half of the employees of Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre (Suntec Singapore) have been retrenched amid the ongoing decimation of the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry.

The venue said on Thursday (Aug 27) the 85 workers, consisting of 60 Singaporeans and permanent residents and 25 foreign staff members, were employed in food production, sales and events, human resources, and finance.

With the retrenchment exercise, Suntec Singapore will have a remaining workforce of 89 local staff and four foreign staff.

"Due care has also been taken to ensure an ageless workforce, maintaining staff across the various age groups," said Suntec Singapore in a joint statement with the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union (Batu).

Suntec Singapore said the MICE industry has been severely impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and events have been suspended since April.

It has been working with Batu since February on cost-cutting measures, which include hiring freezes, redeployment of staff, clearing of annual leave, shorter work weeks and temporary salary reductions in the form of unpaid leave. Non-essential spending has also been eliminated, said the company.

The management of Suntec Singapore has also taken up to 40 per cent in pay cuts, it added, but uncertainty remains over when the situation will improve.

It said it has consulted Batu on the retrenchment exercise, which was in compliance with the NTUC Fair Retrenchment Framework, tripartite advisories and the collective agreement with the union.

Suntec Singapore chief executive officer Arun Madhok said the decision to retrench its staff was not taken lightly and did not reflect anyone's performance.

"Every individual in our team has contributed to the success of our company for many years and I am truly sorry to have to ask many of our wonderful and talented people to look for alternative employment," he said.

Laid-off employees who are eligible will receive a month's salary for every year of service as severance payment. Those eligible will also be paid their pro-rated annual wage supplement for the year and be allowed to encash their remaining annual leave entitlements, said the company.

It added that all affected staff will also be allowed to use their notice period, which starts next Tuesday, to focus on and plan for their future, including attending job fairs, interviews and training.

So far, NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute has identified at least two job opportunities for each local employee who is affected, said the company.

Virtual or physical job fairs and employability workshops, as well as assistance with job applications and counselling will also be arranged by Batu.

Suntec Singapore will also be giving a one-off training grant of $25,000 to Batu to support union members to attend skills training for new jobs.

Eligible union members will also receive help to apply for the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19), which provides one-off support of up to $300.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he was first informed of Suntec Singapore's retrenchment exercise "some time back".

"In this tough situation, the strong labour-management relations between Batu and Suntec Singapore has resulted in a fair process," he wrote.

He urged affected workers to work with NTUC to match them with suitable jobs. "With a positive mindset and the willingness to learn new skills and adapt to change, I am sure better days are ahead," he added.

One employee who wanted to be known only as Mr Sulaiman, 39, said he appreciated the assistance from NTUC and other agencies after receiving news of his retrenchment.

The former audiovisual technician said the agencies presented him with job matches such as installing infotainment systems in vehicles. For now, Mr Sulaiman, whose wife is expecting their first child, is looking to complete a training course for security officers before taking up a vocational licence to be a taxi driver.

"To me, it's not the end of the world. I'd rather be optimistic," he said.

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