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Unionised workers' layoffs up 76% last year: NTUC

Some 2,900 unionised workers in Singapore were laid off in 2013 -- a 76 per cent spike from 2012, when about 1,650 unionised workers were displaced.

SINGAPORE: Some 2,900 unionised workers in Singapore were laid off in 2013 -- a 76 per cent spike from 2012, when about 1,650 unionised workers were displaced.

Nationally, government figures show that in sum, some 7,200 workers were laid off up till 2013's third quarter.

Nine in 10 of the unionised layoffs were from manufacturing, which seems to be the hardest hit as companies restructure.

At the same time, however, the labour movement expects wages to still rise by around four per cent this year.

Singaporeans made up 65 per cent of all retrenched unionised workers in 2013.

The labour movement said the electronics, chemical and precision industries under manufacturing, were primarily letting staff go.

It said firms were shutting down production facilities or relocating operations out of Singapore, lured by factors like cheaper labour and more favourable exchange rates.

Four in 10 workers lost jobs due to ongoing company restructuring and shifting of production to countries such as Malaysia, China and Vietnam.

Production and manual workers as well as technicians formed two in three of all displaced workers in the unionised sector.

Western digital company HGST retrenched about 530 workers on 27 December 2013 as it had decided to shift operations out of Singapore.

Cham Hui Fong, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said: "When we hear news of companies restructuring and leading to job losses, what we usually do is that we will alert the workers that this is impending, this is coming so that there are no surprises.

“…We will also take the database to actually do a quick match. And of course (more) importantly, is that we have to ensure that we secure a fair retrenchment package for them."

The labour movement said unions will help displaced workers find jobs from firms that are hiring, while the Employment and Employability Institute assists with training for other job types.

For now, 2014's first quarter is expected to see some 200 layoffs, mainly from electronics.

The good news is, unionists said for every local worker retrenched, there are at least two job vacancies waiting for him or her. Such is the nature of Singapore's tight labour market.

The circumstances mean 2014's wage increases should hover around four per cent, according to a survey of some 120 firms in December 2013 by consultancy firm Remuneration Data Specialists.

It squares with the labour movement's expectations.

Real wage increase, with inflation accounted for, should be around one per cent, the survey also found.

Peter Lee, managing consultant at Remuneration Data Specialists, said: "Companies are being a bit cautious, because they're still worried about what the global economic outlook will be and impact on their businesses. Although things are relatively rosy, they're not going overboard with their expansion plans, and with their pay packages."

The labour movement hopes real wages will rise by at least three per cent in 2014.

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