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Eagle Services Asia had plans to axe more Singaporeans than foreigners before unions stepped in

SINGAPORE — For some workers at aircraft maintenance company Eagle Services Asia, there was no warning that they were going to be retrenched until they arrived at work, the general secretary of the SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU) recounted. The move by the company was “unacceptable” to Mr Ong Hwee Liang and several other union leaders, as they were in the midst of negotiations with the company.

NTUC's deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said that the unions did not expect Eagle Services Asia to carry out its retrenchment exercise while negotiations were ongoing.

NTUC's deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said that the unions did not expect Eagle Services Asia to carry out its retrenchment exercise while negotiations were ongoing.

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  • Eagle Services Asia’s move to retrench workers came as a surprise to unions
  • They were in the midst of talks with the company, which had plans to retrench 144 workers
  • More than half of the 144 workers would have been Singaporeans
  • After negotiations, the company agreed to lower the overall percentage of Singapore workers to 44 per cent
  • Company said that it needed to cut manpower due to falling customer volume caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

 

SINGAPORE — For some workers at aircraft maintenance company Eagle Services Asia, there was no warning that they were going to be retrenched until they arrived at work, the general secretary of the SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union (SEEU) recounted.

Mr Ong Hwee Liang told reporters on Wednesday (July 29) evening during a video conference that several members of his union had informed him that they had been called up to a meeting room only to be told that they were being laid off on the day itself.

The move by the company was “unacceptable” to him and several other union leaders, Mr Ong said, as they were in the midst of negotiations with the company, which is a joint venture between the SIA Engineering Company and American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

Despite the unions’ best efforts to persuade Eagle Services Asia’s management against retrenching their workers, Mr Ong said that the company went ahead with the decision unilaterally. 

“I was very disturbed by the way it was handled by the management,” he said at the video conference organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Mr Ong was speaking to members of the media several hours after a joint statement was released by NTUC, SEEU, the Air Transport Executive Staff Union and the Singapore Airlines Staff Union about the unfair retrenchment exercise carried out by Eagle Services Asia earlier this month. 

A retrenched engineer, Mr Abdullah Masod, who was also part of the video conference, described the manner in which the retrenchments were carried out as “not right”. 

Mr Abdullah, 56, who was also the company’s SEEU representative, said that the affected workers were told to quickly pack their things and leave, and were not even given a chance to say goodbye to their friends and colleagues.

“The workers were not happy they were being thrown out like animals.”

He added that the retrenchments were not specific to any particular department and it affected everyone from the “top to the bottom”.

In response to TODAY’s queries, a Pratt & Whitney spokesperson said that it had to reduce its headcount due to a decline in customer volume caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The spokesperson said that this was after it had already implemented many cost-containment measures, such as a temporary salary reduction and a short work week, cancelling merit increases, putting in hiring freezes and making discretionary spending cuts.

Still, NTUC's deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said that the unions did not expect the company to carry out the retrenchment exercise while negotiations were ongoing.

“I’ve handled so many retrenchments and I have never seen a retrenchment where in the midst of negotiation, you let go of people,” Ms Cham, who is also the executive secretary of SEEU, said.

The company explained that it had “security reasons” for the sudden manner in which it chose to retrench its workers, she added. 

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Manpower said that Eagle Services Asia’s decision was not aligned with the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment, where employers consult their unions early to resolve disputes amicably.

Pratt & Whitney’s spokesperson did not reveal how many Eagle Services Asia employees have been retrenched so far, but Ms Cham said the unions found out that the company was planning to axe 144 workers, of which 56 per cent would have been Singaporeans. 

This was a cause of consternation for them, because more Singaporeans would lose their jobs than foreigners.

She said that the unions sat down with Eagle Services Asia’s management to comb through the details of its plans, such as the profiles of the workers, the basis on which they were being let go and what skill sets the foreigners had that the Singaporeans lacked.  

If the unions were not satisfied with the company’s selection criteria, Ms Cham said that they would not let Eagle Services Asia carry out the retrenchments. 

Eventually, the parties were able to come to terms.

While the ongoing retrenchment exercise may see more than 144 workers being retrenched, the unions were able to lower the overall percentage of Singaporeans who will lose their jobs to 44 per cent.

They had also secured a compensation package that includes one months’ salary for each year worked, capped at 25 months; three years of medical coverage; and a training grant of up to two-and-a-half months’ salary. 

Presented with this outcome, some employees are still concerned.

One worker, who declined to be identified and who is not on the retrenchment list, told TODAY that he is worried about losing his job as he expects more retrenchments to come in the future.  

"This may only be the first wave (of retrenchments). There may be a second and third wave, like during the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak," he said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY TESSA OH

Related topics

job retrenchment aviation NTUC Eagle Services Asia

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