Coronavirus: US aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney lays off 20% of staff at its Singapore facilities

Tool calibration technician Ridzuan Abdul Hamid is one of about 400 Pratt & Whitney staff who were laid off yesterday. The compensation package for retrenched staff includes one month of pay for each year of service, capped at 25 years.
Tool calibration technician Ridzuan Abdul Hamid is one of about 400 Pratt & Whitney staff who were laid off yesterday. The compensation package for retrenched staff includes one month of pay for each year of service, capped at 25 years.ST PHOTO: CALVIN YANG

Aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney laid off around 400 staff at five of its six facilities here yesterday amid the pandemic-induced downturn in the aviation industry.

The layoffs comprise 20 per cent of its local workforce. This includes more than 140 workers in maintenance, repair and overhaul firm Eagle Services Asia, a joint venture with SIA Engineering, who will be retrenched, as reported last week.

Pratt & Whitney employs over 2,000 workers here with an average employment tenure of 14 years. It noted that Singaporeans and permanent residents will still form about 77 per cent of its workforce after the retrenchments.

The American company, which has been operating here for around 37 years, worked with the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union (SISEU) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on cost-cutting steps to protect jobs since April.

These included temporary salary reductions and shorter work weeks, cancellation of merit increases, hiring freezes and discretionary spending cuts.

Retrenchment was "taken as a last resort", the firm said in a joint statement with the union. Those affected included technicians, engineers and managers.

The aviation industry has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, with global air travel crippled by border closures and airlines scrapping plane orders. Aerospace firms, including component manufacturers and maintenance facilities, are slashing costs and cutting manpower due to declining business.

It has been forecast that it could take until 2024 at the earliest for commercial aviation traffic to recover to pre-Covid-19 levels, forcing "this difficult but necessary decision", said the statement.

The SISEU was notified early last month of the job cuts at the Pratt & Whitney facilities it represents - Turbine Overhaul Services, Pratt & Whitney Component Solutions, P&W NGPF Manufacturing Company Singapore and Component Aerospace Singapore.

SISEU executive secretary Sylvia Choo said the retrenchment exercise was not an overnight decision.

Referring to the prolonged recovery timeline, she explained that it would be tough to hold on to the existing manpower pool and press on with the cost-cutting measures.

"There must be some decision at a certain point," said Ms Choo. "We (had to) ascertain that there is excess manpower, and the manpower cannot be redeployed."

 
 
 

The union went through several rounds of discussions with the company to reduce the number of workers on the name list and ensure that the Singapore core is kept.

Both parties said they will ensure affected employees are accorded fair treatment and compensation packages. The package includes one month of pay for each year of service, capped at 25 years.

The union's immediate priority is to work with the company to give affected employees the necessary assistance, including upgrading their skills. It will liaise with NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute to arrange for workers to attend job fairs and workshops.

Besides the retrenchment packages, SISEU has asked Pratt & Whitney to offer laid-off staff a one-off training grant to update their skills.

Retrenched employees who are union members will also receive paid NTUC membership until the end of the year so they can get benefits such as bursary awards, insurance coverage, personal development and training assistance.

 
 
 

Workers said they were informed of the retrenchments last week but were not told who was on the list.

Tool calibration technician Ridzuan Abdul Hamid, 53, was let go after 30 years with the firm - a decision he said he was mentally prepared for.

"Of course, I feel sad, I have worked here for 30 years. There are a lot of memories. But I understand the company is resizing because the pandemic has affected it."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2020, with the headline 'US aerospace giant lays off 20% of staff at its S'pore facilities'. Subscribe