Straits Times, 28 Jan 2009
PRIME MINISTER Lee Hsien Loong has called on employers to think again before axing jobs.
Retrenchment should be ‘the final choice rather than the first choice’, he said, especially now that the Government has schemes in place to help companies cut wage costs.
Speaking on Monday after visiting pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on the first day of Chinese New Year, PM Lee said bosses should take a longer-term perspective and not just look at the immediate future.
PM Lee visits different companies during Chinese New Year every year to distribute hongbao and thank those working on a day when most of Singapore is not.
Referring to the Jobs Credit scheme announced last Thursday to subsidise part of employers’ wage bills, PM Lee described it as an ‘unprecedented programme’.
The Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (Spur) to foot a portion of the salaries of workers undergoing training was also announced last month.
‘There are many other things that you can do before you come to make the decision that you have to downsize,’ Mr Lee said.
‘With what we have in the Budget, with what the unions have been doing talking to employers, with what the National Wages Council has done with its recent meeting and updated recommendations, I think that these are problems which we can all deal with together.’
He added however that there would still be ‘some retrenchments’.
‘It depends very much on the overall state of the economy, and the important thing is that we try and save as many jobs as possible,’ he said.
Analysts expect retrenchments to surge after the Chinese New Year holidays.
In recent weeks, government leaders and the labour movement have urged bosses to look at ways to cut costs to save jobs – not cut jobs to save costs.
PM Lee visited workers at GSK’s factory in Jurong, where managing director Christopher Dobson took him on a tour.
Both he and Mr Dobson noted that the plant was not retrenching this year.
Although manufacturing has been in decline in recent months, the pharmaceutical sector, a highly volatile one, expanded 17.5 per cent last November.
For 2010 and 2011 however, production volumes are set to come down and staff numbers may have to be relooked then, said Mr Dobson.
Recruitment is already being carefully controlled, he said.
This year, GSK technicians will go for extensive cross-training, aided by Spur, to enable them to do different areas of work as conditions change, Mr Dobson added.
It was a move welcomed by senior technician Ramkomal Tiwari, 48, who has been with the company for 24 years.
‘In manufacturing, if you have to cut workers, you have to cut. We can’t just sit around with no work,’ he said.
‘That’s why upgrading and continuous training is a good plan, especially as a lot of our work is high value-added.’
GSK opened its Jurong factory in 1982 and now has 900 employees. It has $1.4 billion worth of investments in Singapore and is putting in another $100 million over the next five years to upgrade its capabilities here.
Mr G. Rajendran, president of the Chemical Industries Employees’ Union, said many workers in the pharmaceutical sector are highly skilled.
‘We are working with employers to help match them to training so that when the economy improves, they will add more value to the company,’ he said.