Inchcape staff fear more job cuts ahead

Inchcape says it has no plans for a second round of retrenchments, despite speculation that such a move is imminent as the motor distributing giant drives to become leaner.

According to well-placed sources, Inchcape - which is laying off some 120 mostly long-time employees in its highly profitable Singapore market - may retrench another 30 to 40 by the middle of this year.

This comes on the back of news that Borneo Motors, Inchcape's flagship unit here, will be closing its Sin Ming Avenue workshop.

Sources said this will happen in the next "two to three months". The fate of the 30 or so employees who work there is uncertain.

But Inchcape denied that there would be a second wave of layoffs.

A spokesman said the company is restructuring to "become more agile and effective in responding to the needs of the market and our customers now and in future years", adding: "Unfortunately, not all roles and functions could be accommodated under this new structure."

She said Inchcape has "no plans for a second round" of job cuts.

Yesterday, the first batch of staff affected by the downsizing, some of whom were with the company for more than 30 years, left their workplace for the last time. Others will leave in the next few weeks.

In an internal message obtained by The Straits Times, Inchcape's Asia chief executive George Ashford told staff that the restructuring was "to enable Inchcape in our Asia markets to be more nimble and effective in this continuously disruptive business environment".

He said the surge in private-hire vehicles and parallel imports was affecting its markets in Singapore and Hong Kong. Governments in both markets are also accelerating the development of car-light policies, he wrote, adding that the group will reduce its workforce in Asia by 6 per cent in all.

The restructuring, which includes moving finance, information technology and human resources out of Singapore, affects senior management too.

Mr Koh Ching Hong, Inchcape's chief executive for South Asia and managing director of Borneo Motors, will leave at end of the month, as will Mr William Choo, director of Lexus sales and marketing.

Mr Patrick Lee, chief executive for North Asia and China, will focus on a smaller territory as chief executive for Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

Insiders said the shake-up might have an impact on staff morale and customer service.

The sales staff headcount will shrink by 25 per cent while the after-sales division will contract by around 13 per cent.

Affected staff contacted by The Straits Times did not want to comment because of strict instructions not to speak to the media.

Mr Mark Choong, retired chairman of Borneo Motors, said: "The shake-up seems inexplicable, and will have dire consequences in the coming years. I feel sad for the employees affected and concerned for those remaining."

This article was first published on January 7, 2017.
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