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Surbana Jurong: Dismissal of 54 staff could have been better managed

Unions in "ongoing discussions" with Surbana management to seek reasonable ex-gratia payments for those let go

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It was reported last week that Surbana Jurong group chief executive officer Wong Heang Fine had informed his employees via email that the company could not allow a small number of poor performers to affect the rest of the staff.

Singapore

SURBANA Jurong, the Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy which received flak for the way it recently terminated 54 staff due to what it called "poor performance", has admitted that it could have handled the situation better.

This came after its management met with two unions - the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union (SISEU) and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees' Union (Batu) - on Monday.

In a joint statement with both unions, Surbana said the process "could have been better managed", and that it would work closely with the union bodies to provide an "equitable and mutually agreeable arrangement" for the affected workers and to help them find a new job.

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"Moving forward, Surbana Jurong and the unions have also made a commitment to work on strengthening labour management relations," the parties said in the statement.

It was reported last week that Surbana Jurong group chief executive officer Wong Heang Fine had informed his employees via email that the company could not allow a small number of poor performers to affect the rest of the staff.

The 54 people who were let go represented about 0.41 per cent of Surbana Jurong's 13,000-strong global workforce, and 0.79 per cent of its roughly 3,000 employees in Singapore.

News of the terminations drew a sharp response from unionists, who argued that Surbana Jurong did not follow due process. Eighteen of the 54 affected workers are union members.

Batu president Nasordin Mohd Hashim wrote in a Facebook post last Friday: "Usually, before a union member is terminated, the details of the case would be officially given to the union to ensure our members will be given fair treatment and that due process is followed. This was not observed."

Both Mr Nasordin and SISEU general secretary Philip Lee said on Tuesday that their unions are in "ongoing discussions" with Surbana Jurong's management to seek reasonable ex-gratia payments for those who were let go.

"Surbana Jurong and the unions are committed to work out something amicably and expeditiously, and we hope to inform our members of the outcome as soon as possible," they said.

Weighing in on the issue, the Ministry of Manpower noted the "positive and constructive" commitment by Surbana Jurong and their unions to work at resolving the matter amicably.

A ministry spokesman said that companies that have to release their employees should conduct the process in a "fair, sensitive and responsible" manner. "Companies that are unionised should value and nurture close and strong labour-management relationship, strengthen communications and consult with their unions regularly, especially during this period of economic uncertainty and restructuring."

One of the 54 staff who lost their jobs agreed to speak to The Business Times on condition of anonymity. He said Surbana remained at fault for not engaging the unions or having a dialogue with the affected workers before terminating them.

"At least hear them out, and offer them alternative employment in other subsidiaries or overseas companies. Discuss with them if they are agreeable to a salary cut or a removal of their variable bonus," said the employee.

"If these fall through, then ask if they would consider a mutually agreeable exit package. These are the things that I feel the company could have handled better, but didn't."

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