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DFS handling of layoffs could have been better, says minister

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Travel retailer DFS Group could have better handled its recent retrenchment exercise, particularly the way it communicated with its employees and how it offered severance packages, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said yesterday.

[SINGAPORE] Travel retailer DFS Group could have better handled its recent retrenchment exercise, particularly the way it communicated with its employees and how it offered severance packages, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said on Saturday. 

In a Facebook post, Mrs Teo said the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation has been activated to help the affected staff from T Galleria by DFS in Scotts Road.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices has also stepped in to engage DFS.

"The company is now adjusting its approach and taking appropriate steps to address the concerns of the affected employees," Mrs Teo said.

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A DFS Group spokesman told The Sunday Times: "Reducing our workforce was a difficult decision, in response to a challenging travel retail environment.

"Our priority now is to maintain dialogue with affected employees and ensure we provide the assistance they need during this period of change."

The spokesman declined to comment on the exact number of staff who were retrenched.

Media reports said that DFS had told about 60 workers at the Scotts Road outlet to leave with immediate effect, and that it did not give the staff any warning.

Last month, DFS announced that it would close its duty-free stores in Changi Airport by June next year. Its chairman and chief executive Ed Brennan had said that changing regulations concerning the sale of liquor and tobacco meant that staying in Changi Airport was "not a financially viable option".

A DFS spokesman told The Straits Times then that some 500 staff would have the option of working with the new operator or with other operators in the airport community, and some may also be deployed to other DFS locations in Singapore.

The spokesman had added that the group's luxury concessions, including its T Galleria outlet in Scotts Road, would operate as usual.

Mrs Teo said in her post: "In business, there are always adjustments. For example, if a company loses a contract or tender, they may find themselves with excess manpower and have to do something about it.

"Under such circumstances, companies should first consider redeploying the staff to other business units or functions. After best efforts to redeploy, if they find they still have to let some people go, employers owe it to their staff to handle things properly."

This includes providing adequate notice and support such as placement assistance, she added.

Mrs Teo said employers can refer to the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment for specific guidance.

"So far, retrenchment levels in Singapore have not risen beyond that seen in the last few years.

"I urge employers to act responsibly if they need to retrench. Retrenchment is never easy, but handling it sensitively and responsibly can go a long way in helping employees through the transition."

THE STRAITS TIMES