Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said that the mass retrenchment exercise Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group announced this week was what the Government “dreaded” all these months as it fought to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some 2,400 staff across the three airlines under SIA Group will be laid off as the embattled national carrier cuts 4,300 jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic and virus prevention restrictions around the world that have crippled its operations.
After taking a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and voluntary departures involving some 1,900 staff into account, SIA Group will axe 2,400 staff from SIA, SilkAir and Scoot in Singapore and overseas stations.
The organisation said on Thursday (10 Sept) that the decision was “taken in light of the long road to recovery for the global airline industry due to the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the urgent need for the Group’s airlines to adapt to an uncertain future.”
Revealing that it will operate a “smaller fleet for a reduced network” in the coming years, compared to its pre-COVID-19 operations, it added that industry groups have forecast that it may take until 2024 for passenger traffic to return to what it was before the virus hit.
In a Facebook post published that same evening, Mr Ong said: “What we have dreaded all these months has happened. SIA will be reducing its global workforce. Some 2,400 staff based in Singapore and overseas will be affected, the vast majority being foreigners. Factoring in hiring freezes and early retirements, SIA will be reducing total workforce by 4,300.”
Mr Ong shared that SIA delayed its workforce reduction exercise for as long as it could but could not keep the inevitable from happening given how badly the aviation industry has been hit by the pandemic. Pointing out that even the Government’s strong support and SIA’s private fundraising could not help it avoid job cuts, he said:
“We know how badly SIA is hit by COVID-19. Over the past few months, Government has rolled out support measures, including the Jobs Support Scheme, to defray business costs and protect jobs. The aviation sector received the strongest support.
“SIA has also raised significant capital with the support of its majority shareholder. They have delayed this workforce reduction as long as they can, but with air travel decimated by COVID-19, this has unfortunately become inevitable.”
Promising that the Government will do all it can to support the retrenched workers, Mr Ong said that the Government will work with the labour movement to secure alternative employment. He said:
“The workers affected, are the same people we see at the airport, ensuring we board our planes efficiently and on time; the cabin crew in their suits and kebaya that have become a symbol of pride for Singapore; and those whose assuring voices we hear over the aircraft public announcement system, often telling us to belt up, for there would be turbulence.
“Government will do all we can to support the affected workers. We will work with NTUC Singapore and industry partners to place the workers in jobs, help them transit to other industries, or enrol them in suitable industry attachment and traineeship programmes.
“I am sure their skills are much needed elsewhere too. More importantly, we will continue to press on, to restore air travel in a safe manner, to get SIA planes back up in the sky, and revive our air hub.”
What we have dreaded all these months has happened. SIA will be reducing its global workforce. Some 2,400 staff based…
Earlier, SIA Group CEO Goh Choon Phong said that SIA’s priorities from the outset of the health crisis was to ensure survival while saving as many jobs as possible. Calling the decision to axe jobs the most “agonising” one in his 30-year career with SIA, Mr Goh said:
“Having to let go of our valuable and dedicated people is the hardest and most agonising decision that I have had to make in my 30 years with SIA. This is not a reflection of the strengths and capabilities of those who will be affected, but the result of an unprecedented global crisis that has engulfed the airline industry.”
Adding that the retrenchment process will be conducted “in a fair and respectful manner,” Mr Goh said that SIA Group will “do our best to ensure that they receive all the necessary support during this very trying time.”