NTUC halts retrenchment exercise at SIA Engineering joint venture after finding out about unfair practices

The company had proceeded with releasing some employees without finalising the list of affected workers with the unions.

Julia Yeo | July 29, 2020, 03:00 PM

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and unions in the aerospace and aviation cluster stepped in to halt a retrenchment exercise by Eagle Services Asia Pte Ltd (ESA), a joint venture between Singapore Airlines (SIA) Engineering Company and original equipment manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

Details about the union intervention to curb unfair retrenchment practices were made public in a joint statement on July 29, 2020.

NTUC and unions halted retrenchment process by ESA

According to the statement, ESA unilaterally proceeded to release specific employees on July 22 before finalising the list of affected employees with the unions.

This was despite ongoing negotiations since early July with Air Transport Executive Staff Union (AESU), SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU), and Singapore Airlines Staff Union (SIASU).

"When the unions were alerted that ESA management had gone ahead to start informing employees that they may be retrenched, the NTUC and the unions took decisive action and 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 read.

Negotiated terms for affected employees

As further negotiations between ESA, NTUC and the unions were ongoing, the unions engaged their members and conducted a secret ballot under the authorisation of NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng, to sanction legal industrial action to rectify shortcomings and improve the retrenchment process where necessary.

Union members supported the move as a result of the ballot.

The management of ESA, a unionised company under AESU, SEEU, and SIASU, conceded that they could have better handled the retrenchment process, and took advice from the various parties to correct the retrenchment process and accorded due respect to the rights of employees and to the union leaders.

As a result, affected employees were given additional training grants on top of a fair compensation package offered.

Union leaders and NTUC's e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) were also on-site to assist affected employees and help match retrenched employees to job placement opportunities.

"Unions and ESA management jointly reviewed the selection criteria and names of employees to be retrenched to ensure that as far as possible, the Singaporean Core is safeguarded, whilst giving due considerations to foreign workers," the statement added.

"NTUC would like to reiterate that while retrenchments may be inevitable, companies must exhaust all other options before making the call to retrench employees. In the event of retrenchment, companies must ensure openness, transparency and consultation with unions and workers, and observe the guiding principles outlined in NTUC’s Fair Retrenchment Framework and the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment."

Ng Chee Meng: NTUC will do its best to protect workers' interests

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng shared his thoughts on Facebook regarding the unfair retrenchment exercise conducted by ESA.

"NTUC understands these are tough times. Nonetheless, there must still be fair play and proper process accorded to affected workers in any retrenchment. At the end of the day, while NTUC and our unions may not be able to save every job, we will do our best to protect the rights and interests of every worker. We will do so in a fair way to our employer partners as well," he wrote.

Employees were reportedly dissatisfied with how ESA handled retrenchment exercise

According to an earlier report by Lianhe Wanbao, it was revealed that 144 employees from ESA were reportedly retrenched over three days.

Many workers were unhappy with how the retrenchment exercises were executed, as they were only informed that they were on the list of workers being axed after arriving at work, and had to pack up and leave the place as soon as they received the notice.

During the second retrenchment exercise, some employees reportedly weren't even able to enter the premises of the company, and instead had to speak to union workers outside the office.

MOM aware of ESA's ongoing discussion with unions

In response to ESA's retrenchment exercise, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) shared that the ministry has been aware of the ongoing discussion between ESA with the unions, to ensure that the retrenchment process was carried out fairly.

"It was unfortunate that ESA decided to take certain unilateral decisions without consulting both MOM and the unions while discussions were still ongoing. This is not aligned with our Tripartite Advisory where we tell employers to consult their unions early with a view to resolve disputes amicably," the spokesperson shared.

"MOM understands and empathise with the workers’ grievances. We are glad that ESA took steps to rectify their earlier decisions and eventually were able to come to an amicable arrangement with the union to address the concerns of the workers, while maintaining good tripartite relations."

MOM added a reminder for employers to carry out retrenchment exercises fairly and responsibly "in the event that retrenchment is inevitable", and to treat employees with dignity and respect.

Employers are also reminded to engage unions early if there are any retrenchment involved, to work with them to resolve such issues.

"We remind all employers to adhere to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment during a retrenchment, and to provide adequate assistance for affected workers as well as preserve the Singaporean core," the MOM spokesperson added.

Pratt & Whitney says decision to retrench employees was not taken lightly

Regarding the retrenchment exercise carried out by ESA's management, a spokesperson from Pratt & Whitney said that the decision to retrench employees "was not taken lightly".

"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," the spokesperson said.

"This comes after having already implemented many cost containment measures, such as a temporary salary reduction and short work week, cancelled merit increases, hiring freezes and discretionary spending cuts."

Top image via Wikimedia Commons, Journal-Aviation