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NTUC, unions rebuke 'unfair' layoffs at P&W, SIA Engineering joint venture

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NTUC and the unions said they have since secured better outcomes for the affected staff, after talks with Eagle Services Asia's management.

THREE unions and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) have publicly censured and halted "unfair" layoffs that reportedly affected more than a hundred workers at aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company Eagle Services Asia.

On July 22, the management of Eagle, which is a 51:49 joint venture between American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney (P&W) and mainboard-listed SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC), had released specific employees before finalising the name list with the unions.

This was in spite of ongoing negotiations since early July with the Air Transport Executive Staff Union (AESU), the SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU), and the Singapore Airlines Staff Union (SIASU).

When the unions were later alerted that Eagle had gone ahead to start informing employees that they may be retrenched, NTUC and the unions stepped in immediately to stop any further action by the company until an agreement could be reached.

"The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted," said NTUC, AESU, SEEU and SIASU in a joint statement on Wednesday.

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Lianhe Wanbao first reported on Monday that 144 employees of Eagle were axed within three days, during two rounds of layoffs held between July 22 and 24.

The Chinese daily wrote that employees found out they were on the list of retrenched workers only when they arrived at work, and were then required to pack up and leave the premises immediately. Eagle also did not explain the selection criteria to them, the newspaper reported.

According to the joint statement on Wednesday, the unions conducted a secret ballot to sanction legal industrial action to rectify any shortcomings and improve the retrenchment process, if and where necessary, as authorised by NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng.

The unions received "overwhelming" support from their members to pursue legal industrial action, should it become necessary to persuade management not to take unilateral decisions, Mr Ng said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Eagle's management has conceded that its retrenchment process could have been better managed, through conversations with NTUC and union leaders.

The management then took advice from NTUC and the unions, corrected the retrenchment process and "accorded due respect" to the rights of employees and to the union leaders, according to the joint statement.

NTUC and the unions said they have since secured better outcomes for the affected staff, after talks with the management.

For instance, the unions and the management jointly reviewed the selection criteria and names of employees to be retrenched, to ensure that the "Singaporean core" is safeguarded as far as possible, while giving due consideration to foreign workers.

The unions also further negotiated for an additional training grant for all affected union members. This is on top of the fair-compensation package Eagle had offered to the axed workers.

NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute were on-site to provide support and match retrenched employees to job placement opportunities. Likewise, union leaders were present on-site to help those affected.

Mr Ng wrote on Facebook that he had received messages from concerned workers and unions about a week ago regarding an "unfair retrenchment exercise" at Eagle.

At the time, NTUC and the trio of unions were in "tense negotiations to fight for a fair and dignified retrenchment", he added. "I am glad that calm and good sense prevailed ultimately. We have since been able to reach an amicable agreement with the company on the retrenchment."

NTUC reiterated that while retrenchments may be inevitable, companies must exhaust all other options before laying off workers.

Said Mr Ng: "At the end of the day, while NTUC and our unions may not be able to save every job, we will do our best to protect the rights and interests of every worker. We will do so in a fair way to our employer partners as well."

In the event of retrenchment, companies must ensure openness, transparency and consultation with unions and workers, and observe the guiding principles outlined in NTUC's Fair Retrenchment Framework and the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment.

Eagle is a unionised company under the three unions representing different groups of employees, including administrative officers, engineers and technicians.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has drastically curbed travel, which in turn has dealt a body blow to aerospace players such as Eagle.

In response to The Business Times' queries, P&W on Tuesday said in an e-mailed statement that no employee was retrenched between July 22 and 24, and that all staff continued to be on payroll.

SIAEC shares were trading at S$1.79 as at 2.50pm on Wednesday, down S$0.05 or 2.7 per cent.

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