Two longtime employees of Eagle Services Asia told Coconuts Singapore today about their surprise layoffs from the aviation firm now in the spotlight for shedding dozens of workers without notice.
Speaking on condition of anonymity as they are still in negotiations, the two technicians, each company veterans of over three decades, said the sudden retrenchment of around 140 employees last week came as a total surprise to many.
One of the two, a supervisor and unionized employee, said he was told that he would be laid off just hours after reporting to work on July 22. He described being called into a room with several other workers, some of whom he said were Malaysians.
“I was sitting inside the union room, and then one of my operation leaders came,” the 58-year-old man said on the day 31 workers would be let go, later adding: “That was when I knew my number was up.”
He is now separated from the company while the other employee said union intervention allowed him to stay, though he expects to be transferred to another department.
The 52-year-old employee said he was at work when the first round of cuts happened.
“I heard that they were told to pack up and leave and later denied entry. Most of them were Singaporeans,” he said.
He went on to describe the tense mood the next day, when he was among those to learn their names were on the list of 140 or so workers to be retrenched.
“I prepared already in case they call my name. Every person I talked to they felt like their name was in there. They all pack up, including me,” he said.
He thought he was out of work until union negotiations this week saved his job. Still, he will have to accept a pay cut and reassignment.
Dozens of staff, including senior workers, were told to pack their things and leave the premises of the Calshot Road company in Changi without advance notice.
On Wednesday, the 58-year-old man said he was given a letter signed by general manager Yip Ying Kiong stating that he would be put on a “leave of absence” and not allowed to return to work. The letter, which Coconuts Singapore has seen, went on to state that it was not a formal notice of retrenchment, as the exact details of the exercise had yet to be finalized.
The letter only cited the impact of COVID-19 for letting workers go, but the senior worker suspects it might have been due to his health. He said that he had been ill the past three years due to a heart condition.
The younger of the two said he’s unsure about his future.
“Due to COVID, almost every industry is affected, so not easy to find a job,” he said, adding that he’s received no formal notification despite being told by a union rep that he will be transferred out Monday.
While at work yesterday, he said two more foreign colleagues he was working with were let go.
“We didn’t expect it; they were still working,” he said. “They were doing their work, then one guy from a different section come and asked ‘Are you so and so? Can you follow me for a while?’ Then they brought them to one of the offices.” Both employees were from the Philippines.
Lack of transparency, disregard for negotiations: unions
There was no signal from Eagle Services Asia before the surprise retrenchment took place. Also known as ESA, it is a joint venture between SIA Engineering Co. and majority stakeholder Pratt & Whitney, a U.S. firm.
Multiple unions, including the National Trades Union Congress, put a stop to the company’s actions, saying it did not follow due process and released retrenched workers despite ongoing negotiations and without finalizing the list of names with the unions.
“When the unions were alerted that ESA management had gone ahead to start informing employees that they may be retrenched, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the unions took decisive action and stepped in to stop any further action by the company until an agreement could be reached,” a statement issued yesterday by NTUC said.
“The lack of transparency and disregard for negotiations with the unions is not acceptable and is not how a retrenchment exercise should be conducted,” it added.
Yesterday, NTUC chief Ng Chee Meng said that they had concluded negotiations with the firm.
He said that the list of employees to be retrenched was reviewed to “ensure that the Singaporean core is safeguarded to the extent possible, whilst giving due considerations to our foreign colleagues.”
After this article was published, ESA acknowledged to Coconuts Singapore that it had to reduce the size of its Singapore workforce after having already implemented many cost-cutting measures that include temporary salary reductions, short work week, canceled merit increases, hiring freezes and discretionary spending cuts.
“Employee departures are never easy, and this decision was not taken lightly. This is unfortunately a result of current market conditions we are facing, including customer driven volume declines due to a generational pandemic no one could foresee,” its statement said.
There were 144 people originally on the list of workers expected to be retrenched, members of the SIA Engineering Company Engineers and Executives Union told reporters last night. The portion of Singaporeans on the list was reduced from 56% to 44%.
Those retrenched will receive a month’s salary for each year worked, capped at 25 months, as well as retraining grants.
Worse than SARS
ESA’s retrenchment exercise comes at a turbulent time for Singapore’s aviation sector, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singapore Airlines this week reported a record S$1.1 billion loss in the first quarter while SIA Engineering two weeks ago reported a “historical low” in flight frequencies during the same period, handling only 13% of what it was used to before the pandemic hit.
SIA Engineering also said that its maintenance unit workload had dropped along with that of its engine and component joint venture companies.
But Singapore’s aviation sector is no stranger to crisis. It was also affected during the 2003 SARS epidemic, though manpower issues at ESA were better handled at the time.
Both of the technicians told Coconuts Singapore that there was better communication at that time, and people could still continue to work as normal.
“It’s totally different from SARS,” the younger tech who held onto his job said. “That time they update on what’s happening to the company, and what’s happening outside. They tell us. … It’s not like this. This never happened, and we are a bit shocked.”.
“How [can] the company treat us like that?” he added. “It’s a rollercoaster feeling this week.”
The retrenched employee agreed:
“We understand the predicament of COVID-19, but you cannot treat us like this.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a response by Eagle Services Asia.
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