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VIRUS OUTBREAK

Axe falls on Resorts World jobs; MBS not expected to be spared

RWS move comes just 2 weeks after reopening; amid continued travel curbs, IRs' S$9b expansion and jobs creation could be affected

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Genting Singapore declined to specify the kind of roles that were axed and the share of its headcount these roles comprised. It was reported to have had about 9,400 employees last year.

Singapore

RESORTS World Singapore (RWS) held a "one-off workforce rationalisation" on Wednesday - just two weeks after the integrated resort (IR) reopened.

A spokesperson declined to say what roles were axed and how many staff were affected, citing "business and team members' confidentiality".

Genting Singapore had about 9,400 employees in 2019, when just over seven in 10 were either Singapore citizens or permanent residents.

But DBS analyst Jason Sum believes "the bulk of redundancies would probably lie in roles that deal directly with visitors" - such as casino dealers, theme-park ticketing agents and hotel housekeeping workers.

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Citing retrenchment trends in the global gaming industry, he told BT that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of staff in Singapore may have been laid off.

Sister company Genting Malaysia's Resorts World Genting has already slashed its own headcount by 15 per cent, or about 3,000 employees, other news outlets previously reported.

Taken in tandem with salary reductions, Maybank Kim Eng analyst Yin Shao Yang estimated that Genting Malaysia's move could lower full-year staff costs by as much as 40 per cent.

No estimates have been offered at this time for Genting Singapore, where annual reports show headcount trending down in recent years.

Rival IR Marina Bay Sands (MBS) did not comment when asked by BT if it has similar plans in store for its more than 10,000 staff.

Yet "I guess it's a matter of time" for a similar move by MBS, said an equity analyst who declined to be named. The analyst, who covers Genting Singapore, noted that MBS had net debt of US$2.41 billion as at end-March, based on financial disclosures from parent Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Even with Genting Singapore's net cash position, which the company has touted as "a good buffer to withstand weak operating performance", RWS "still did what it did", he added.

RWS' retrenchment exercise, which involved co-ordination with the Ministry of Manpower and unions, highlights the toll of the novel coronavirus pandemic on tourism - an impact that the IR called "devastating" in its statement.

To control the spread of the novel coronavirus, travel restrictions kicked in from the first quarter on, while domestic appetites were curbed by a "circuit breaker" - or a quasi-lockdown - in April and May.

RWS owner Genting Singapore told shareholders at its recent annual general meeting at end-May that it expects full-year performance to "be significantly and adversely impacted".

That was after a 53.1 per cent year-on-year fall in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, amortisation to S$159.3 million for Q1 to March 31. Half-year results are slated for release on Aug 6.

Mr Sum from DBS and CGS-CIMB analyst Cezzane See both told BT that jobs would likely return only when international visitor arrivals recover.

Calling retrenchment "a last resort" in the wake of the "unprecedented, immediate, and immense" industry impact of the pandemic, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) affirmed that RWS has fulfilled obligations such as holding talks with union representatives and offering fair compensation terms.

RWS had already streamlined operational resources, including trimming salaries and fees for management and directors. All staff were also encouraged to take no-pay or annual leave.

The IR said that it would invest in remaining employees' skills, with an eye on future growth, such as job redesign that focuses on productivity and higher-value positions. "RWS takes a long-term view of our manpower needs," it said, adding that it aimed for "a stronger Singaporean core forming three-quarters of the workforce". This would represent a slightly higher share of Singapore resident employees than in the past.

Even with the layoffs, RWS managed to keep "a vast majority of local staff", it said, without specifying.

When asked by BT what further skills training it will offer to the remaining IR workers, NTUC said that the labour movement's priority is to put as many displaced workers as it can in new roles.

At least two job opportunities have been found for each affected local worker in industries such as healthcare, food and beverage services, and wholesale trade, based on work experience. The public service is also offering contract roles such as "safe management assistants".

Laid-off workers who are keen on these positions will be matched with prospective employers. NTUC is also holding coaching sessions for workers, especially PMETs, ahead of the job referrals and interviews.

The Singapore government last year extended the two IRs' exclusivity period until 2030, on the back of their pledge to invest a combined S$9 billion in non-gaming facilities and add up to 5,000 jobs. But, if either IR fails to meet its investment commitments, it will stare at a flat tax rate of 12 per cent on premium-gaming revenue and 22 per cent on mass-gaming revenue from March 2022.

That is when a new tax structure will replace the present casino tax rates of 5 per cent for premium gaming and 15 per cent for mass gaming.

Keith Tan, chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board, said: "We understand that (RWS') decision to reduce staff strength was not an easy one, but was necessary for the organisation to transform and build resilience during this challenging time."

On Wednesday, Genting Singapore added S$0.01, or 1.29 per cent, to S$0.785, after its layoff news broke. The counter is now up by 20.8 per cent since the imposition of the "circuit breaker" on April 3.

READ MORE: New job scopes for surviving RWS staff

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