Asia

Retrenched SIA workers will get help to find new jobs: Ong Ye Kung

Thousands of workers who have been laid off by the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group will not find themselves alone as they seek new employment.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday that the Government will work with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and industry partners to help place workers in new jobs. It will also help them transition to other industries or enrol them in suitable industry attachment and traineeship programmes.

“More importantly, we will continue to press on, to restore air travel in a safe manner, to get SIA planes back up in the sky, and revive our air hub,” said Mr Ong in a Facebook post following SIA’s announcement that it will have to cut its total workforce by 4,300 positions.

After factoring hiring freezes, early retirement and natural attrition, about 2,400 SIA Group staff based in Singapore and overseas will lose their jobs, with the vast majority being foreigners.

Mr Ong noted that the Government has supported the aviation sector with measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which offsets the cost of wages for employers, while SIA has also raised significant capital with the support of Temasek as well.

“They have delayed this workforce reduction as long as they can, but with air travel decimated by Covid-19, this has unfortunately become inevitable,” he said.

SIA chief executive Goh Choon Phong said in an internal memo to staff yesterday that the company will conduct the process of cutting jobs in a fair and respectful manner, and do its best to give staff the necessary support.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng said the news of the job cuts did not come as a shock in the current climate. But “we can’t help but still feel a deep sense of loss and sadness”, he said.

Mr Ng added: “I know it is tough for all concerned. But let us take heart, keep the faith and continue to support one another. Slowly but surely, we will emerge stronger together.”

Meanwhile, National Trades Union Congress deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said the union will continue to work with SIA Group on training opportunities for its remaining workforce, as well as help those whose incomes have been impacted.

This would help tide them over this difficult period and be well positioned when the market recovers, she said.

Mr Alan Tan, president of the Singapore Airlines Staff Union, told The Straits Times that the union and SIA had tried to help the carrier hold on to its crew, but the impact of the pandemic was too severe.

“We had expected this; it is a matter of when, not if,” he said.

“I have been with SIA for 38 years and this is the worst crisis I have experienced.”

Mr Tan said the union will help affected staff look for other jobs, and it will help foreign staff in areas such as getting them home.

When asked if more job cuts might be in the pipeline, he said it would depend on how the pandemic pans out and if countries lock themselves down again.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said retrenchment for airlines was inevitable, given that many governments worldwide are still reluctant to open up their borders.

He said the job cuts could help see SIA through the next six to nine months.

“Visibility for the aviation sector is still somewhat cloudy with airlines unsure of how much their capacity can be restored in the coming months,” said Mr Song.

“SIA is not alone. Airlines everywhere else have been supported by government measures and will have to face reality when support measures taper off.”

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