500 workers retrenched from hard-drive firm HGST, union to help

SINGAPORE - In the first major retrenchment in Singapore in recent years, HGST, the enterprise hard drive subsidiary of Western Digital, yesterday axed 530 employees - almost a quarter of its Singapore staff. This is believed to be the company's biggest layoff exercise in Singapore in the past 20 years.

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In a Facebook post, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that even with "a tight labour market and an economy that is doing reasonably well, we will continue to see some amount of redundancy as our economy restructures.

"I wonder how many of us noticed the news about HGST's retrenchment exercise. It is one of the larger retrenchments this year. Even with a tight labour market and an economy that is doing reasonably well, we will continue to see some amount of redundancy as our economy restructures.

He added that some amount of redundancy is an inevitable reality and that Singapore will likely see more of this in the coming years.

"The key thing is to make sure that there is adequate help available to help displaced workers re-enter suitable jobs. And for jobs to be available in the first place.

"Importantly, the unions often proactively work with the management to help those affected. I am glad that HGST Singapore's management and the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries (UWEEI) have been doing this. They are actively working with e2i to provide assistance to the workers affected by the company's retrenchment. Union has also helped secure other settlements and benefits.

"WDA has stepped up employment facilitation efforts as the economy restructures. This includes working closely with the Community Development Councils, grassroots and self-help groups to help unemployed and vulnerable job seekers find jobs. WDA will also work with Family Service Centres and other community counselling providers to help job seekers who require emotional support, and ramp up its outreach and assistance capacity through the unions, advertisements and activities carried out in locations close to the community.

"Retrenchments will happen whether it be festive season or not. Even when the economy is healthy. Unemployment will occur even if the economy is healthy and unemployment low. We must ensure that the systems and processes are in place to help those affected. Take care!"

HGST has released a statement saying that the move was not "revenue-driven", but a response to "new market realities occurring in the storage industry". "It is a market-driven action that will benefit factory efficiencies as the mix of product deliverables changes to meet market needs," it said.

"HGST will be repositioning its Singapore manufacturing facility (in Kaki Bukit) from a mass volume manufacturing site to a pilot production, engineering and shared service centre," the company added.

In response to the news, Heng Chee How, executive secretary of the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries (UWEEI), said that the union was saddened by the news but "we understand that the company faces keen challenges to maintain cost competitiveness".

He added that HGST "has committed to UWEEI to ensure fair compensation and treatment for the affected employees".

According to HGST's website, the multi-million dollar high-tech manufacturing plant at Kaki Bukit was home to more than 2,000 employees before the retrenchment exercise.

The facility produces high capacity and high performance server hard disk drives, and head stacks with MR technology. HGST Singapore is the Global Centre for the company's operations - where the company's key regional business functions are consolidated into one central location in Singapore.

Apart from being the Asia-Pacific regional headquarters, the site also houses the multi-regional sales centre and financial centre, server hard disk drive manufacturing centre, intellectual property and technology centre.