'Wrong to call workers poor performers'

'Wrong to call workers poor performers'
PHOTO: Screengrab, The Straits Times

After a very public termination exercise at Surbana Jurong, the management and unions have reached an agreement with an ex-gratia payment, and the 54 dismissed employees have received a fair outcome, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament yesterday.

But Mr Lim criticised the Temasek Holdings-owned infrastructure consultancy's handling of the dismissals.

Last month, a company spokesman said the dismissals were not a retrenchment exercise, but involved "a small number of poor performers (who) were communicated with and released".

Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah yesterday raised concerns that those who were labelled poor performers would find it a challenge to look for another job.

In response, Mr Lim, a former National Trades Union Congress chief, said: "I spent many years with the labour union and now with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). To the best of my recollection, it is the first time that an employer conducts such a major termination exercise and declares publicly and labels the workers poor performers.

"As Manpower Minister, it is something I do not find acceptable."

Read also: Surbana Jurong explains terminations in e-mail to staff

Last month, the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees' Union, which represented 14 of the sacked workers, said in a Facebook post that "due process" was not observed by Surbana during the dismissals.

Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union general secretary Philip Lee also questioned Surbana's termination process, and wrote on Facebook that it was "heartless to the extreme" to sack the workers just before Chinese New Year.

Read also: Unionists speak out against sacking of Surbana Jurong employees

In response to Non-Constituency MP Associate Professor Daniel Goh Pei Siong's question about the "due and fair process" when it comes to terminating poor-performing employees, Mr Lim said employers have to substantiate their claims with documentation.

"The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices makes it clear that employers who wish to terminate the services of employees on the ground of poor performance are to apply relevant and objective performance criteria.

"The criteria should be made known to all employees."

Read also: The Surbana issue: Were the workers sacked for poor performance or retrenched?

Employees who feel they have been dismissed unfairly can approach MOM, which will mediate, said Mr Lim.

If mediation fails, MOM will conduct an inquiry and require the employer to show cause and produce evidence to justify the termination.

If an employer is unable to substantiate his claim that the employee's performance is poor, he may be ordered to reinstate the employee, or to provide compensation. If he does not comply with the order, he can be prosecuted, Mr Lim added.

Replying to queries from The New Paper yesterday, a Surbana spokesman said: "We have resolved the matter fairly and amicably with the unions.

"We are reviewing our performance management processes to improve the system, including communicating with employees more frequently."

Read also: Sackings 'could have been better managed'

Human relations expert Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Career Consulting Group, told TNP that Surbana had opened a "can of worms" by publicly saying that its dismissed workers were poor performers.

He said: "It led to suspicions the company was trying to avoid paying a retrenchment package. Besides, (work) performance can be a very subjective issue."

Mr Lim also urged companies to be responsible and sensitive when dealing with performance management as it is a shared responsibility between employers and employees.

linheng@sph.com.sg

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This article was first published on Feb 8, 2017.
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