Meta staff came to Singapore on employment passes only to be retrenched months later
Two employees who were laid off in the Facebook parent's global cuts tell CNA how they are scrambling to find jobs before their short-term visit passes expire.
SINGAPORE: More than a month after they were laid off, ex-Meta employees who arrived in Singapore on employment passes are scrambling to find jobs to stay in the country.
Two former employees affected in the global cut involving 11,000 Meta staffers told CNA that they came to make a life in Singapore earlier this year, only to be retrenched months later with no resolution in sight in a tough job market.
On Nov 9, Meta's chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees that the Facebook parent was reducing its workforce by 13 per cent, cutting discretionary spending and extending its hiring freeze through the first quarter of next year. When CNA approached Meta for comment last month, a spokesperson declined to say more.
The mass layoffs are the first in Meta's 18-year history and comes after thousands of job cuts at other tech companies such as Twitter, Microsoft and Snap.
WHAT HAPPENED ON NOV 10
Employees in Meta's Singapore office, which is home to its Asia-Pacific headquarters, were notified of the layoffs in the early hours of Nov 10.
Ms Susmita Sahu, a technical sourcer in Meta's recruitment department, started crying upon seeing the email.
"Waking up that day I was very devastated ... I spoke with people who were affected. Everybody's voices were shaking, they could not talk about it," the 29-year-old Indian national said.
Her access to the office and to her company laptop was cut on the same day.
Another ex-technical sourcer, who wanted to be known by the initials EZ, said she was typing her goodbyes to colleagues on their work chat when her access was cut off.
EZ, who moved from Shanghai in June, said her mind went blank upon seeing the dreaded email.
Her phone started buzzing nonstop from around 7am that day, EZ said. "I woke up and checked my email (and I saw something) like 'Unfortunately you are being included in this layoff' ... I didn't know what to think."
She immediately texted her team-mates.
"I know some of my team-mates brought their families here ... I was kind of worried for them. I didn't know whether they got it or not ... then I realised that everybody (in her team) got the same email," EZ said.
The news came as a shock as team leaders and managers had been telling staff that all was well, said EZ and Ms Susmita. Assurances were made even the day before the layoffs.
Both have yet to receive their severance packages – about 2.7 months' salary.
The two did not get a chance to return to the office, and their belongings were sent to their homes.
"I literally cried in front of (the delivery person) because I was very emotional seeing those things from my ... office and he apologised. He was like: 'We are sorry for what you're going through, this is your stuff from the office'," said Ms Susmita.
She believes that Meta's recruitment department was the worst hit in Singapore, with about 120 employees getting the axe.
While both Ms Susmita and EZ came to Singapore alone, others they know had brought families, including children. The retrenched employees were all placed on gardening leave until Dec 10.
Meta has since provided affected staff with life coaches and career transition programmes to help with resume building and finding jobs, according to both women.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS
Both women left their home countries for Singapore to work for Meta on employment passes, with Ms Susmita arriving in July and EZ in June. Both went through rounds of interviews before being offered positions.
EZ and Ms Susmita said their annual salary at Meta was in the range of S$100,000.
"When I got this job at Meta, I was really happy. Really, really happy. In fact, it was like a dream come true," Ms Susmita said.
"The pressure and the work environment were difficult, really challenging from the time we joined. (But) it was a great place to learn, I could have easily stayed for five, seven years if I was not laid off."
Even then, there were signs that all was not well.
"The work environment was really pressurising, we had really high targets – incredibly high targets to deliver. When we delivered 100 per cent it was not enough, we always had to prove ourselves more – to 120, 130 per cent of the targets," she said.
Her team-mates worked hard, thinking that their performances would be considered in the event of layoffs. But even those who performed extremely well were retrenched, Ms Susmita said.
EZ said she was surprised to find that Meta's recruitment team was heavily staffed when she joined in June.
"That's kind of like a sign right? We had so many people but actually the workload is not that much," she said, adding that she and her team-mates did not have much to do as a hiring freeze had been implemented.
In October, when another hiring freeze was announced, EZ recalled that the recruitment team had to start a project to give themselves something to do.
Both women are racing against the clock to find a new job in Singapore, after their employment passes were cancelled with their departure from Meta.
They are now on short-term visit passes valid for the next 90 days, during which they have to find a job or return home.
The duo said they have been diligently sending out applications and are prepared to take a pay cut of 30 to 40 per cent. But the going has been tough.
Ms Susmita said she has applied for 80 to 90 positions and interviewed for almost 15 companies, but has received few responses. Firms that do respond are not able to offer her an employment pass, she said.
Competition has been tight, with openings for recruitment positions heavily oversubscribed, said Ms Susmita. One such position had about 200 applicants within hours of the job posting.
EZ said she sent out 15 to 17 applications in Singapore for similar roles but the only two that responded could not promise employment passes.
While both hope to stay in Singapore, they will have no choice but to return to their home countries should the next few months prove futile.
EZ is prepared to return to China in February next year at the latest, while Ms Susmita has bought an air ticket for a flight in March in case things do not work out.
Considering her options, EZ said: "Going back to my country is not a really bad decision ... Some parts of Singapore are better but some parts I miss back in my hometown, so I would think going back is not really bad. So I'm okay with the so-called worst-case scenario.
"I still want to stay here, I mean after all the relocation ... I tried to get used to the food and weather."
She added that her parents and friends have been supportive but she still feels emotional and lonely at times.
"HOLIDAY SEASON GONE"
For Ms Susmita, the bad news couldn't have come at a worse time of the year. This is the period she would be celebrating the holidays and her brother's birthday, which falls on Christmas, with her family.
She had planned to fly to Thailand, Bali and Vietnam from Dec 21 until New Year's Day to meet her family. But she had to cancel her trip after she was laid off.
"All my life, we were always together on his birthday and this time I won't be there," she said.
She has lost around S$5,000 from air tickets and paid accommodation that she could not get a refund on.
"I could not buy even a Christmas tree over here so I was really sad ... these are little things that you really enjoy and the whole season of holidays is gone for all of us."
Even as both try to go through life with a semblance of normalcy, their current predicament underlines their daily activities. Ms Susmita has been cutting down on purchases and eating out, while EZ stopped buying things in case she needs to ship them back home.
Both will also likely lose their rental deposits if they have to end their contracts prematurely. The sum to be forfeited ranges from S$1,700 to S$2,500.
For Ms Susmita, her experience in Singapore feels surreal.
"I still feel like I hope this is all a dream and I wake up to a normal day where I can go to office to my work. Even if it was like, some days, 12 hours of work.
"It was better than what it is right now, the stress of finding a job ... more work is better than no work."