Transitioning has received numerous emails from our PMETs over the years stating that they were unfairly dismissed by their employers. Our weak labour laws meant that unfairly-dismissed PMETs have nowhere to seek for redress when there is a case for workplace arbitration. Even Professor Tommy Koh has recently publicly requested for an Ombudsman to be formed here so that such contentious labour cases can be fairly looked into by a independent third-party body. TAFEP – Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices is too aligned with the employers and the government to act fairly and without prejudice for our displaced local PMETs.
We reproduced an online questionnaire completed by one of our local PMETs who stated that he was unfairly dismissed by an international bank ANZ – not once but twice and replaced by incoming foreign talents.
Transitioning: Please tell us a bit more about yourself Mr X – educational qualifications, work experience and current employment status. Are you comfortable to provide your real name here?
I have a Master’s Degree from SMU. I was one of the top students in my class and had a GPA of 3.8 out of 4.
I have professional certifications like PMP (Project Management Professional) , Six Sigma and CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor)
I have over 14 years of experience working for large MNCs and large foreign banks in Singapore. My experience is primarily around managing large cross functional business projects in the financial services and banking domain.
I would not like to provide my real name at this stage as ANZ is known to go after anyone who raises a voice against them. In fact, since I wrote to you I have received a few intimidating calls from ANZ asking me if I have shared my ANZ experiences with anyone. I would definitely not want to do anything to weaken my position. However, I have no issues in coming out in the open and providing my name if the appropriate authorities take this issue up and I am offered whistleblower protection.
After suffering 7 months of unemployment (thanks to ANZ), and unable to find an appropriate position, I decided to work as an independent consultant for the time being just to pay my bills and run my house. Currently, I am offering project management consultancy to a well-known firm in the payments industry. I am making just enough to survive, in fact I am earning less than I did when I started working many years ago. The reason is, my client firm does not directly engage independent consultants as per their sourcing policy and I have to go through a sub-contracting firm, which keeps the lion’s share of the consulting fees for itself.
Transitioning: You have informed us that you were unfairly dismissed twice from a foreign bank ANZ, can you tell us more about it?
In Jan-2011, ANZ contacted me through a headhunter and offered me a lead role in their Centralisation program as an FTE (Fixed Term Employee). My employment contract was for 2 years from Jan 2010 to Jan 2012 (renewable) and I was eligible for all company benefits like Medical Insurance and Annual leave.
I had a performance rating of 2 (on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being highest) which placed me in the top 15 % employees of the company. In Oct 2011, my hiring manager and his boss transferred to other locations, and the management was replaced with 2 new managers (Lets call them C and P) who were from New Zealand. They started practicing a very discriminatory policy from day one of assuming office.
A project manager by the name of L, who was working as a fixed term contractor in the GloCards program and was about to lose her job as the project was being shut down. She was hired into our department as a permanent staff.
None of the other local staff in the department were considered or even given a chance to interview for that position. After assuming work, she didnot have a lot of success and all the projects under her management were also shut down.
All the projects under me were running on time and on budget….. suddenly, one fine day I was asked to give up all my projects to her (in Mar-2012). Then they made me redundant in Apr-2012 …. I was told that there was not enough money in the program and hence they had to let me go inspite of having a good performance record. I did file a complaint with the HR for unfair termination, but they refused to take any action. (In fact, the investigations was being led by a local HR staff (M) , later at the fag end of the investigation a new HR guy from New Zealand (D) was brought in to cover up the investigation.) Once I left, I learnt from my previous colleagues, that, within a few weeks of my departure, my manager initiated a request with HR to hire another project manager who was being made redundant in Australia and bring him over to Singapore to do my role (so that his job could be protected). HR apparently asked him to wait for a few months, to let the dust settle down before he could bring that guy over.
I started looking for a job and made a few applications through the internet. In Aug-2012, I applied for another role with ANZ in the “Program Foundation” and was hired as a deployment manager for RCE (department is led by S). My employment terms were, an annually renewable fixed term employment and the initial tenure was from August 2012 to August 2013. I was eligible for all company benefits like Medical Insurance and Annual leave.
But within 3 months, the same story was repeated. Some of the New Zealander / Australian staff were made redundant in other parts of the program …. they were now absorbed into my department. A restructuring exercise was done to create new roles within my team to absorb them and I was laid off again in Oct-2012.
Also, the HR rep (J) was extremely rude and insensitive. I was asked to pack and leave in 20 min after serving my letter of retrenchment. I was in shock and I requested her to see if she could help me find another opportunity either within ANZ or refer me to the outplacement firms that ANZ uses her curt response was “That is not part of my job, it is your problem not my problem”.
Transitioning: Can you provide any evidence that you are unfairly replaced twice by foreigners in the same work place?
Incident 1 – April 2012
I was replaced by a New Zealander lady. Lets call her L for the purpose of this questionnaire.
I had all the relevant qualifications like PMP certification, Six Sigma Certification which are relevant to my job. L did not have any.
When I was hired, I was made to write a challenging written assessment on Project Management. All other local hires were made to write the same test. However, when L was hired, she was not required to write any such assessment. Instead, she was invited to a coffee with the managers and hired.
I had a good performance appraisal in 2011, and was ranked among top 15 % of the firm. (I have a copy of the appraisal and can share it upon request). But, I was not considered for the permanent position when they decided to hire L who was a contractor in another area of the firm. When I questioned my manager (let call him C) as to why he was not considering me for that position, he started bullying me in collusion with the department head (Lets call him P).
I made a complaint with HR against this abusive behavior. However no action was taken against my manager and the department head. They were exonerated of all charges.
When HR interviewed the team, all the local employees (about 4 of us) complained to them that the managers in question were very abusive and their behavior was very aggressive to us. However, there were 2 foreign talent employees who sided with the management and gave them a clean chit. HR conveniently chose to overlook the feedback from the local staff.
Within a week of making a complaint to HR, C called me into a room and said that he was retrenching me. He informed me that my last day would be 12-May-12.
I went back to HR and complained that C and P were being vindictive as I made a HR complaint to them. HR promised to look into the matter.
The very next day, C called me into a room and told me,
“We have decided that today will be your last day. Please collect your stuff and leave now!” He refused to answer any questions as to why I was being asked to leave in this manner. When I requested that HR be called into the room he refused.
After leaving, I called up Mr. M from employee relations but he informed me that he would not be able to do anything to help me. His excuse was “The case was being handled by Australia and New Zealand HR and not Singapore”.
Incident 2 – October 2012
I was hired into the “Program Foundation” in Aug-2012
At the time of hiring, I had offers from another firm in a different industry. As I have been working in the financial services industry for a while, I decided to take up the ANZ offer. But I did raise my concerns with the hiring manager and he assured me profusely during the interview that the program had adequate funding for the next 3 years and he did not see any risk.
In Sep-2012, 2 staff who originally came from Australia / New Zealand lost their jobs in other parts of the bank. Lets call them M and J. They knew my department head (lets call him S) quite well as he was also from Australia / New Zealand. They spent 2 months doing literally nothing in the office.
Then, on 26-Oct I was called into an office by the HR lady and my hiring manager and I was told that I am being made redundant as the project wanted to save costs. My role was split into 2 and offered to M and J after I left.
Transitioning: Were there any retrenchment benefits provided?
No retrenchment benefits were provided to me whatsoever.
Transitioning: Did the company explain to you properly why you were replaced and was the human resource department diligent in carrying out its duties here?
No. The HR was not present during my round 1 retrenchment. During round 2, they even refused to help forward my resume to their sourcing partners and help me find an alternative employment. They told me flat on my face : “It is your problem that you are being laid off, it is not ANZ’s problem”
Transitioning: You have also stated that you have approached TAFEP for assistance but they couldn’t assist you much, can you explain more here?
It looks like a templatised cut and paste response which the officer forwarded to me and closed my case. They did not make any effort to make a thorough investigation and take the employer to task.
Transitioning: What were you expecting from TAFEP to do actually?
I had expected TAFEP to investigate the case thoroughly and take some action to prevent similar incidents in future.
Instead, the TAFEP officer provided me a templatised cut and paste reply.
I had also expected the TAFEP officer to ask me for more details, but from the very beginning she seemed to have a very lethargic and uninterested approach.
The TAFEP officer did not even bother to keep me posted about the status of my complaint.
When I followed up, she told me that there is nothing that she could do.
When I requested to speak to her superior, I was turned down and she stopped all further communication.
Transitioning: Regarding legal recourse, have you consider that approach?
No I have not considered that approach. In Singapore the employment laws and regulations are by and large favorable to the large multi nationals and personally I do not know of a single incident where someone has managed to bring to task an errant multi national for preferential hiring.
Besides, after being unemployed for 7 months, my reserves have substantially depleted and I do not have the financial means for taking a legal recourse.
Transitioning: What do you think the government can do to prevent such occurrence from happening to any local PMET here?
I feel that the Singaporean Job Bank initiative that is going to come in force from 2014 is a step in the right direction. However, they should consider removing the salary cap so as to ensure that Singaporeans are not being discriminated against for senior management positions as well.
Also, there should be more governance of the HR departments of large MNCs so as to ensure that they are not using policy loopholes to escape the requirements of the Job Bank.
Organisations like TAFEP should be given more power to act against errant firms, at the moment it appears to be a benign watchdog without any bite.
Transitioning: Lastly, what are the side-effects of the double retrenchment besides being unemployed for a long period?
Firstly, my resume looks terrible with lots of gaps in a single year. I am also asked the question as to why the same firm retrenched twice. I was just lucky to have kept a copy of my 2011 appraisal for my records, and I show that during interviews to address that concern. Unfortunately, that can only be used if you have been called for an interview, many times firms just don’t call me for an interview because of this issue. In short, this has resulted in lots of missed career opportunities.
Lower Pay. Most firms try to squeeze you when you are unemployed and pay you less than market standards.
Psychological trauma and stress. Sometimes I really feel as to what I have done to deserve this treatment from ANZ. I delivered every project that they gave me on time and within budget. I worked hard for them and even turned around troubled projects, which their other employees had failed to deliver. Then why me?
Your savings get depleted and there was a point in time where I was very close to missing my mortgage payments. I also had to disrupt my regular savings plan / insurance plans and suffered severe financial losses because of that.
End of interview
Editor’s Note: We have filed a official complaint to Acting manpower minister Mr Tan Chuan Jin and TAFEP asking for a more thorough investigation into the serious allegations. The mail was also forwarded to both the local and foreign presses.
*Article first appeared on http://www.transitioning.org
*Transitioning – unemployment support services is a non-government organisation which provides coaching and counselling support to Singaporeans in employment transition. All our services are offered free of charge and operated solely by volunteers. Our core mission is to ensure that Singaporeans are hired first in our own country and accorded proper labour rights