SINGAPORE: The ex-gratia payments agreed upon by Surbana Jurong management and union bodies are a fair outcome for 54 sacked employees, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament on Tue (Feb 7).
Last month, the Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy company terminated the 54 workers and sent out an email stating they were poor performers dragging down the rest of the organisation. The move was criticised by union bodies who said due process had not been followed.
Surbana later acknowledged the terminations “could have been better managed” and said it would work with the unions to help the employees obtain compensation and find new jobs.
“The episode serves as a good reminder to employers that termination should be conducted in a responsible and sensitive manner,” said Mr Lim.
He clarified that employers who terminate contracts on the grounds of poor performance have to substantiate their claims and apply relevant and objective criteria which should be made known to all employees.
Employers should also keep records of employees’ performance, and the decision to terminate services should be based on documented poor performance. When a unionised employee is involved, the union should also be consulted.
If an employee files an appeal of unfair dismissal to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the ministry will first mediate. Should that fail, MOM will conduct an inquiry and require the employer to produce evidence to justify the termination.
If the employer is unable to substantiate claims that the affected employee’s performance is poor, the employer may be ordered to reinstate the employee or provide compensation. If it does not comply, it can be prosecuted.
PREVENTING FUTURE INCIDENTS
Noting MOM’s concern at how the Surbana case involved a major employer, Mr Lim said: “Whether GLC (government-linked company), MNC (multi-national company), large local enterprises or for that matter public service … We do expect all of them to conduct HR (human resources) practices in a responsible and progressive manner.”
He revealed that moving forward, a “Human Capital Partnership” programme will be launched within the next few weeks, with the aim of working together with employers to value “precious” HR more.
“We hope that in time to come, we can reach out to more employers, especially larger ones, to join this programme so mistakes such as this need not happen again in future.”
Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah then pointed out that with the label of “poor performance”, the 54 sacked employees would have an added challenge in finding new jobs. She asked if MOM would help them if they needed it.
“I spent many years with the labour movement and now MOM. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time an employer has conducted such a major termination exercise and announced publicly it was due to the workers’ poor performance,” said Mr Lim in response. “As Manpower Minister, it is something I do not find acceptable.”
A performance that is not up to mark could be also affected by contributing factors on the part of the employer, such as the work environment and HR practices, he added.
“Performance management should be the joint responsibility of employer and employee. For most organisations, if the working relationship reaches such a stage whereby the employer and employee can no longer continue … They will find a way to go their separate ways,” said Mr Lim.
“But you don’t label publicly. So that’s why I think the management realised that as well and publicly acknowledged.”
“I hope to make clear to all employers out there that when it comes to performance management, do it responsibly and at the same time sensitively. I hope we will not come across another case where a company does a major termination and labels employees as having poor performance publicly,” he concluded.
“Because at the end of the day, poor performance in one organisation doesn’t mean the person cannot do well in other places.”
In response to media queries, a spokesperson for Surbana Jurong said the company has resolved the matter "fairly and amicably with the unions".
"We are currently reviewing our performance management processes to improve the system, including communicating with our employees more frequently," Surbana Jurong said.