Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) began retrenching 130 of its employees yesterday as the media giant moved to cut costs and restructure its work processes.
The layoffs represent about 3 per cent of its manpower and took place in the afternoon after a company-wide townhall meeting in the morning.
Union leaders and professional counsellors were present to help the affected workers, several of whom said they were caught off guard by the news. Others were upset at the swift and sudden way in which the retrenchment was delivered, taking place the day after the company announced its annual results.
Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group, said it was "a difficult and sad day for all of us in the newsroom".
"None of us wished to see our colleagues having to leave. They have done much good work, and we appreciate all their contributions over the years," he added.
"I wish we didn't have to do this, but we had to make some painful decisions. We had to do it to help keep our newsrooms on a sound and sustainable footing going forward."
Retrenchments also affected the Chinese Media Group and Integrated Marketing Division, and the exercise will be completed by the end of this month. This means the company's headcount will be reduced sooner than planned. When SPH announced last October that it will cut its headcount by 10 per cent, it said the move will be done over two years. Now, it will be done by the year end, affecting a total of 230 workers. This figure includes the 130 being retrenched as well as reductions arising from retirement and termination of contracts.
Those retrenched are, in general, given one month's pay for each year of service, capped at 25 years, plus pay in lieu of an agreed notice period. An SPH spokesman said the company informed the Manpower Ministry and Creative Media and Publishing Union (CMPU), which represents SPH workers, in advance about the layoffs. It is also giving retrenchment benefits and training grants, helping those laid off find and apply for jobs within the group, and holding career counselling and job placement services with the NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
The headcount reduction is expected to lower wage bills by 8 per cent to 9 per cent, SPH chief executive Ng Yat Chung had said on Wednesday. Disruption to the media industry continued to affect revenue from SPH's core media business, which slid 13 per cent. Advertisement revenue was down 16.9 per cent from a year earlier.
CMPU president David Teo said the union was given almost a month to negotiate a retrenchment package with SPH's management."Both sides compromised and we got the best of a sad situation. I think it's a fair package by industry norms."
He said the priority is to get affected workers back on their feet. CMPU and NTUC will hold a career networking event for them on Oct 30. CMPU and e2i will also be at News Centre in Toa Payoh North to help retrenched workers, whether they are union members or not.
The mood in The Straits Times newsroom was sombre yesterday as colleagues in different parts of the print and digital sections gathered round reporters, sub-editors, photographers, artists and photo technicians to say goodbye, offer words of comfort and help them pack up their belongings.
One employee of almost 20 years said he would consider applying for another position in the company.
"For me, when one door closes, another opens," he said.