Nearly half of Suntec Singapore's workforce to be retrenched as COVID-19 hits meetings and exhibitions industry

Nearly half of Suntec Singapore's workforce to be retrenched as COVID-19 hits meetings and exhibitions industry

Suntec city convention centre
People drive past the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre on Nov 10, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Nearly half of the workforce across the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre will be retrenched, with the exhibition industry "severely impacted" by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The retrenchment exercise will affect 85 roles across the company, including sales, operations and support functions such as finance and HR, Suntec Singapore and the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees' Union (BATU) said in a joint media release on Thursday (Aug 27).

The 85 roles comprise 60 locals and 25 non-local staff members. Suntec Singapore currently employs 149 locals and 29 non-locals, the media release added.

The effective date of notice for those affected was on Thursday, with affected employees serving their notice period from next Tuesday.

"With uncertainty on when the situation could improve and after considerable deliberation and review between Suntec Singapore and BATU, a one-off workforce rationalisation plan has now been announced," the media release said.

Suntec Singapore and BATU said the Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) industry has been “severely impacted” by COVID-19 and events have been suspended since April.

From early February, Suntec Singapore began working with BATU on cost control measures, including the elimination of non-essential spending, hiring freezes, internal and external redeployment of staff, clearing of annual leave, shorter work weeks.

There have also been temporary salary reductions in the form of unpaid leave, with the management taking up to 40 per cent in pay cuts.

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“This retrenchment exercise has been considered in close consultation with BATU, in compliance with the NTUC Fair Retrenchment Framework, tripartite advisories as well as the collective agreement with the union, to ensure a caring, transparent, fair and responsible process,” Suntec Singapore and BATU said.

“The well-being of all affected staff has been a priority throughout the process, with a focus on maintaining a strong Singaporean core.”

They added Suntec Singapore will maintain a core of 89 locals and four non-locals that possess “the best fit of experience, qualifications, knowledge and skills to bring the business forward post-COVID”.

“Due care has also been taken to ensure an ageless workforce, maintaining staff across the various age groups.”

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SUPPORT FOR AFFECTED WORKERS

CEO of Suntec Singapore Arun Madhok said: "This decision has not been taken lightly and does not in any way reflect the performance of any staff. 

"Every individual in our team has contributed to the success of our company for many years and I am truly sorry to have to ask many of our wonderful and talented people to look for alternative employment."

Affected and eligible employees will receive a month's salary for every year of service as severance payment, in accordance with a collective agreement signed with the union, Suntec Singapore and BATU said.

Eligible staff members will also be paid their pro-rated annual wage supplement for the year and will be allowed to encash their remaining annual leave entitlements.

Those affected by the retrenchment exercise will also be allowed to use their notice period to "focus on and plan for their future", said Suntec Singapore and BATU. 

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Local staff members will also receive assistance from the NTUC Job Security Council (JSC) to be matched to job openings based on their skills and experience.

“NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute), as the ecosystem manager for the NTUC JSC, has successfully identified at least two job opportunities for every affected local staff,” Suntec Singapore and BATU said.

“For example, affected workers in food production are being matched to similar roles in the food and beverage industry. Sales and events staff could be matched to similar roles where their skills are transferable.”

BATU and e2i will also arrange for affected staff members to attend virtual or physical job fairs and employability workshops, and offer further assistance with job applications and counselling where necessary.

Suntec Singapore will be giving a one-off training grant of S$25,000 to BATU that will “support union members’ efforts in upskilling or re-skilling for new jobs”, the media release said, adding that eligible union members would also be assisted in applying for the NTUC Care Fund (COVID-19) which provides additional one-off support of up to S$300.

“BATU and the Labour Movement stand ready to assist affected workers as best as we can, providing much needed support, be it in terms of employment assistance or emotional support for our workers during such distressing times,” executive secretary of BATU Zainal Sapari said.

Suntec Singapore and BATU added: “Suntec Singapore will continue to work with BATU, e2i, Workforce Singapore, SGUnited and other relevant authorities to upskill the remaining workforce through training, job re-design, adoption of technology solutions and enhanced business processes.”

Going forward, Suntec Singapore will focus on evolving opportunities with a renewed business strategy, said Suntec Singapore and BATU, without elaborating.

READ: Millennium Hotels and Resorts lays off 159 employees in Singapore amid COVID-19 impact

READ: Pratt & Whitney lays off 20% of Singapore workforce due to COVID-19

NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he was informed of Suntec Singapore’s retrenchment plans "some time back".​​​​​​​

"This has been weighing ever so heavily on my mind," he said.

"Affected workers have a fair retrenchment package and the NTUC Job Security Council will do their best to provide these workers at least two job opportunities pre-matched for them."

He also said that NTUC will strengthen its labour-management relations with the company and ensure that retained workers continue to progress alongside the company and are well taken care of.

COVID-19 has impacted various industries across Singapore, including the tourism and hospitality, as well as commercial aviation sectors. 

Millennium Hotels and Resorts said earlier in August it has laid off 159 employees, while aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney said it has laid off 20 per cent of its workforce in Singapore.

About 140 staff members from Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) media sales division and magazines were also "affected" by a retrenchment exercise, as part of a restructuring to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on advertising revenue.

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Source: CNA/aa(mi)

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