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National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng has urged those affected by Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group’s mass retrenchment exercise to “keep the faith”, in a Facebook post published the same day the embattled national carrier announced plans to axe thousands of jobs.

SIA Group announced on Thursday (10 Sept) that it is cutting a hefty 4,300 jobs across its three airlines amid the coronavirus pandemic and virus prevention restrictions around the world that have crippled its operations.

After taking a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and voluntary departures involving some 1,900 staff into account, SIA Group will lay off 2,400 staff from SIA, SilkAir and Scoot in Singapore and overseas stations.

The organisation said that the decision was “taken in light of the long road to recovery for the global airline industry due to the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the urgent need for the Group’s airlines to adapt to an uncertain future.”

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Announcing plans to operate a “smaller fleet for a reduced network” in the coming years, compared to its pre-COVID-19 operations, SIA Group promised to work closely with the unions to minimise the stress on its staff who are set to be laid off.

It said: “Discussions have begun with our Singapore-based unions. The Group will work closely with them to finalise the arrangements as soon as possible for those affected, and try to minimise the stress and anxiety on our people.”

Mr Ng said that SIA Group’s decision has left him with a “deep sense of loss and sadness” although it does not come as a shock, in a Facebook post published in the wake of the national carrier’s announcement.

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Recalling the positivity he felt earlier in the year when one of SIA Group’s airlines voluntarily helped out as the Government responded to the COVID-19 crisis, Mr Ng said:

“When I sent off our FlyScoot team who volunteered to bring Singaporeans back from Wuhan earlier this year, there was a sense of pride and positivity in the air. Today, while news that our local airlines have to right-size does not come as a shock in these times, we can’t help but still feel a deep sense of loss and sadness.”

Mr Ng added that the decision can be especially hard for the union leaders who tried hard to mitigate retrenchment. He said: “It can be especially hard for our union leaders, having to see fellow colleagues being let go.

“When our union leaders from the aviation and aerospace sectors and I met on several occasions over the past few months, we spoke of steps taken by management and unions together to help workers during this downtime and mitigate retrenchment.

The former ruling party MP, who was ousted from Parliament in the July election, added: “While outcomes may not always be as desired, I appreciate these unwavering efforts.”

Calling on those who are concerned to take heart, Mr Ng expressed his belief that Singapore will emerge stronger from the crisis. He wrote: “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.”

When I sent off our FlyScoot team who volunteered to bring Singaporeans back from Wuhan earlier this year, there was a…

Posted by Ng Chee Meng 黄志明 on Thursday, 10 September 2020

NTUC said in a separate statement that it will stand in solidarity with employees affected by the retrenchment exercise. The labour movement’s Deputy Secretary-General Cham Hui Fong said: “We know that the decision to let employees go does not come lightly to SIA Group.

“While this move is necessary, considering air travel has almost ground to a halt, retrenchment is still never easy news to hear, both for employers and employees alike.”

NTUC added that Singapore Airlines Staff Union (SIASU) and Scoot Staff Union (STSU) have been working closely with SIA and Scoot’s management on various measures to avoid the retrenchment over the last six months but the impact of the pandemic proved to be too devastating.

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It said that SIASU and STSU worked with SIA’s management to ensure that the retrenchment exercise was fair, taking reference from the NTUC Fair Retrenchment Framework and other tripartite advisories.

SIA Group’s CEO Goh Choon Phong earlier promised that the retrenchment process will be conducted “in a fair and respectful manner,” and that SIA Group will “do our best to ensure that they receive all the necessary support during this very trying time.”

Sharing that SIA’s priorities from the outset of the health crisis was to ensure survival while saving as many jobs as possible, Mr Goh called the decision to axe jobs the “most agonising” one he has had to make in his 30 years with SIA. He said:

“Having to let go of our valuable and dedicated people is the hardest and most agonising decision that I have had to make in my 30 years with SIA. This is not a reflection of the strengths and capabilities of those who will be affected, but the result of an unprecedented global crisis that has engulfed the airline industry.”

Singapore Airlines Group retrenches 2,400 staff as it cuts 4,300 jobs

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