SINGAPORE – Employers should retrench workers only as a last resort and ensure, even then, that the proportion of local staff in the companies is not eroded, said Singapore’s apex business chamber.

Meanwhile, efforts to build up skills among local workers and keep them employable continue to gather steam, with five community development councils (CDCs) jointly holding a week-long event from Monday (Aug 10), offering access to coaching and pathways to jobs.

Acknowledging that layoffs are expected to rise in the coming months, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) stressed in an advisory to its member companies on Friday (Aug 7) that if these become inevitable, they should be done in a fair and transparent manner.

“If companies need to retrench, they should have in place fair criteria that protect their Singaporean core and yet retain talent necessary for growth,” said SBF chairman Lim Ming Yan.

Warning companies against discriminating against any group on the basis of age, race, gender, religion, marital status or disability, the SBF added: “They should retain employees, both local and foreign, based on their key skills and experiences needed to enable the company to emerge stronger and create new job opportunities for Singaporeans in the future.”

It asked its member companies to explore other options – such as sending workers for training, redeploying them to other roles, and implementing wage adjustments – before retrenching staff.

Preliminary figures released last week by the Ministry of Manpower showed that unemployment and retrenchments surged between April and June, while total employment shrank in the second quarter.

SBF’s Mr Lim urged businesses to take a longer-term view of their manpower needs “so as to retain and upgrade important capabilities, and to transform their businesses for the eventual recovery”.

The SBF, which represents more than 27,000 companies, said many businesses face increasing challenges around cost and cash flow management, and have been holding on to their workers for as long as they can. While government support measures have helped stave off retrenchment in the first half of the year, those in hard-hit sectors may have to make tough manpower decisions to survive, it added.

The advisory is in line with the National Trades Union Congress’ Fair Retrenchment Framework, which promotes responsible practices for firms laying off staff, and the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment, which encourages firms to notify workers early and explain why retrenchments are needed.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing acknowledged the greater pressure businesses and workers are feeling on the ground.

Mr Chan noted that the advisory reminds businesses the critical role they play amid an uncertain economic outlook. “I hope that this reminder will allow our companies to more carefully consider their options before turning to retrenchment as a last resort, and when there is no other option but to retrench, remember to do so in a fair and reasonable manner,” he added.

Meanwhile, the event organised by the five CDCs offers professional advice to residents on new skills they can pick up which may come in handy during this period. The event will host over 50 online workshops, webinars and masterclasses and make available a site offering access to various job search platforms with over 10,000 job vacancies.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said it is encouraging that the SBF is helping to raise awareness among companies on how workers can be protected and treated with respect during retrenchments. “If it is inevitable, companies must ensure openness, transparency and consultation with our unions and workers,” she added.