Surbana Jurong Axes Poor Performers, Defends as Not a Retrenchment Exercise

January 30, 20178:55 am2043 views

Surbana Jurong terminates more than a dozen staffers on account of poor performance and defends its stand saying, “This is not a retrenchment exercise.” The workers have been eliminated as a part of performance management review.

In its defense, Surbana Jurong group chief executive Wong Heang Fine told staff in a strongly worded email that, it cannot allow a small proportion of poor performers to drag on the rest of the organisation, Straits Times reports. “More importantly, for those of us who want to do great things, why should our rewards be affected by a small group of colleagues who don’t care about how their poor performance affects our performance negatively?”

Wong Heang Fine, Chief Executive Officer of Surbana Jurong Group

Wong Heang Fine, Chief Executive Officer of Surbana Jurong Group

Mr Wong in his e-mail clarified, 54 employees were identified as poor performers – representing 0.41 percent of Surbana Jurong’s global workforce and 0.79 per cent of its Singapore staff. They were from business units such as facility management, affordable housing, urban development, city management, infrastructure, urban planning and international headquarters.

Of the 54 professionals sacked, 26 were professionals, with nine in senior positions, including managers, senior executive architects, principal architects and principal engineers, AsiaOne reports. Mr Wong added that there were no retrenchments nor was the exercise targeted at any specific business unit, community, discipline or age.

In October last year, NTUC expressed concerns that employers were disguising retrenchments to circumvent labour laws. One such modus of operation listed by NTUC is terminating with poor performance cited as a reason, a curious sign of a disguised retrenchment is when the poor performance rating comes abruptly following a consistently good ratings.

It is believed that the affected staff were handed letters last week and they took it to the Union and officials at the MoM. These workers are represented by the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union and the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (Batu), both affiliated to NTUC.

Feeling aggrieved for the affected 65 workers at Surbana, Singapore Industrial & Services Employees’ Union (SISEU) General Treasurer and NTUC Central Committee member Philip Lee opines on Facebook, “While the CEO email says they still received bonus and annual increment. Every good HR knows that it is common practice to give warning as an initial step before eventual termination of employment and to give feedback and opportunity for employees to improve. Where is the due process here? Were workers given the right to appeal before they were terminated?”

Lee further questions, if the CEO and Chairman have given careful thought to the terminated employees and families that it’s a complete loss of livelihood. “To sack them just before CNY is heartless to the extreme. Union wants to see fairness at MOM.”

See: Most Firms in Singapore Continue to Pay Retrenchment Benefits to Eligible Employees: MOMTop of Form

The two unions said 18 members from both the unions have been affected and those terminated are over the age of 62. Their re-employment contracts have been premature terminated. NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari, who is also executive secretary of Batu, said the unions are working with Surbana on how to help the affected union members.

These layoffs come amid an uncertain economic outlook, with MOM figures showing 13,730 workers were made redundant in the first nine months of last year, a 34.5 per cent increase from the same period for 2015.

According to a recent news update, Nasordin Mohd Hashim, president of the Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU), said in his Facebook post, that the way of providing fair treatment and due process for union members was “not observed”. Usually, before a union member is terminated, the details of the case would be officially given to the union. Of the 54 terminated workers, 14 are members of BATU.

Hashim further added, “Eight of our members were re-employed staff who were offered re-employment or had their contract renewed. Why did the company offer them re-employment or renew their contract if their performance was not satisfactory to begin with? All we ask for is fairness, transparency and accountability for our members. These are universal principles which all companies and unions should stand by.”

Surbana made several high-profile acquisitions last year to include purchase of Australia-based engineering consultancy firm SMEC Holdings for $400 million to acquire its expertise in urban transport and the energy and water sectors. This deal being one of Surbana’s largest lifted its headcount from 4,000 to 10,000, and made it the biggest development consultancy group in the region.

Few months later it bought security firm and Temasek unit Aetos Holdings for an undisclosed sum. This acquisition gave the company capacity to conduct audit and risk assessments of building designs, thus increasing its global staff headcount to nearly 13,000.

The firm has no lack of project supply, Teo Eng Cheong, Surbana’s international operations chief executive said last October, “over 1000 projects are in the pipeline.”

Also read: NTUC Expresses Concern over “Disguised Retrenchments” Trend Picking Up in Singapore

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