SPH axes long-serving staff: Practical move or Heartless move?

You might have heard that 130 employees in the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) will lose their jobs by end this year. Some have already been told to leave.

According to a Yahoo news report, dozens of them from the Straits Times were axed yesterday. These include seven from the Life! section, as well as 15 employees at Business Times.

Those junior employees who were affected by the cut probably had little to lose – it’s easier for them to find another job.

But imagine the heartbreak for long-serving photographers and editorial staff from the newsrooms.

Some have devoted 20 years of their lives for the company but are not spared from the harsh reality.

They found their work accounts disabled and were told to vacate the premises by 6pm.

Clearly, SPH did not cut them any slack.

But this was a decision made by the former management of SPH last October and the plan was to reduce its headcount by 10 per cent over two years.

Things went downhill

Things changed when chief executive Ng Yat Chung took over SPH last month.

During a company town hall meeting yesterday morning, he announced that the retrenchments will be brought forward by one year.

The management decided that these painful decisions were necessary to “help keep their newsrooms on a sound and sustainable footing going forward”.

These job-cutting measures were made despite the full year net profit for SPH overall rising 32 percent from the previous financial year.

The Creative Media and Publishing Union (CMPU) negotiated for a retrenchment package with SPH’s management for almost a month.

This package includes one month’s pay for each year of service, capped at 25 years, plus pay in lieu of an agreed notice period.

There are also other types of benefits and training grants to help those affected to find new jobs (within the SPH group or through NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i)).

It could have been worse

What may seem like a dehumanizing move to retrench these long-serving staff in a swift and sudden way, the law reminds us that it could have been worse.

In Singapore, retrenchment benefits are not mandated by law.

That means, if it is not specified in employment contracts or collective agreements (negotiated by unions), employees will probably not receive any retrenchment benefits.

In other cases like Surbana Jurong, the unionised company even sacked 54 employees without giving them a heads up and involving the unions beforehand.

In SPH’s case, at least there was a fair retrenchment package.

What’s baffling, however, was how the SPH management decided to retrench its long-time employees instead of retrain them as part of its restructuring process.

Why didn’t SPH choose to retrain their workers?

SPH’s advertising revenue has plunged but the company is still making money. So why did they have to resort to retrenchment?

No doubt it is an easy way out of a difficult situation but was it really necessary?

Assuming an employee who has served for 20 years earned a monthly income of approximately $4,000, he or she would be entitled to at least $80,000 worth of retrenchment benefits.

Would this sum of money plus a small portion of the company’s profits be inadequate in training a mature worker for the digital economy?

Perhaps, unions should also consider disrupting the traditional collective agreement and find a way to make companies invest in training to upskill their workers.

This way, companies don’t have to cut jobs unless they are forced to (i.e. on the verge of bankruptcy).

Photo credits: Mothership and TODAY Online

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