Three unions were given the green light to go on strike, if necessary, to prevent a company from going ahead with planned retrenchments unilaterally, labour chief Ng Chee Meng said yesterday.
Industrial action was averted after aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul firm Eagle Services Asia corrected its retrenchment process and reached an amicable agreement with the unions.
The firm had not followed the due process for retrenchment when it went ahead to inform some workers last week that they might be laid off, even before talks with the unions concluded, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said in a joint statement with the unions yesterday.
They had stepped in to stop any further action by the company until an agreement could be reached.
"The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted," the statement said.
Mr Ng, who is NTUC's secretary-general, said in a Facebook post that the company and NTUC, as well as the aerospace and aviation unions, had been in tense negotiations over the past week "to fight for a fair and dignified retrenchment".
"While NTUC respects management's needed measures to keep the business viable, we will stand up for our workers' dignity, interests and fair play," he added.
"To let everyone understand that NTUC will stand up to protect our workers, I authorised our unions to prepare for industrial action should it become necessary to persuade management not to take unilateral decisions.
"We wanted a fair negotiation. The three unions conducted a secret ballot and workers gave overwhelming support to pursue legal industrial action."
Fortunately, it was not needed.
When the negotiations concluded, the parties had jointly reviewed the final retrenchment name list of more than 140 workers, of which around 44 per cent are Singaporeans.
On the initial list, which had 144 workers, about 56 per cent were Singaporeans.
The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted.
NATIONAL TRADES UNION CONGRESS, in a joint statement with the unions.
Workers and unions raised concerns a week ago, when on July 22, the management of Eagle Services Asia proceeded to ask specific employees to leave work before finalising the name list with the unions. Others were denied entry.
This was despite ongoing negotiations with the Air Transport Executive Staff Union, SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union, and Singapore Airlines Staff Union since early this month.
Following talks, Eagle Services Asia - a unionised company with the three unions separately representing administrative officers, engineers and technicians - conceded that the retrenchment process could have been better managed and made adjustments.
Mr Ng said: "I am glad that calm and good sense prevailed ultimately." The parties had reviewed the selection criteria and list of retrenched employees to ensure that as far as possible, the Singaporean core is safeguarded, while giving due considerations to its foreign workers, he added.
In addition to getting a fair compensation package for affected workers, the unions had also negotiated for an additional training grant for affected union members.
Eagle Services Asia, a joint venture between SIA Engineering Company and American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, told The Straits Times it had considered retrenchment only after implementing other cost-containment measures, "such as a temporary salary reduction and short work week, cancelled merit increases, hiring freezes and discretionary spending cuts".
"Employee departures are never easy," said the firm. "This is unfortunately a result of current market conditions we are facing, including customer-driven volume declines due to a generational pandemic no one could foresee."
Affected staff - some of whom have been with the firm for decades - had expressed disappointment with the way the situation was handled.
NTUC, which last Friday proposed a Fair Retrenchment Framework, yesterday reiterated that companies should consider retrenchments only as a last resort.
Mr Ng said NTUC understands that these are tough times. "Nonetheless, there must still be fair play and proper process accorded to affected workers," he added.