I am a above-50-years-old unemployed PMET, spent 12 years of my life working overseas and recently came back to Singapore. In 2013, I was made redundant due to M&A and was laid off.
Though my contract was signed in Singapore, I got no help or protection from the Singapore labor law.
I had worked 9 years for this company, started the business from nothing and building it up into a significant business in Asia, and though there was a precedence established that senior managers will get 2 months for each year of service, I got what my contract stated, that is the payment in lieu of contractual notice period.
I wrote to MOM and got the run around, and at the end, I got the standard reply that PMETs are not covered by the labor law and the employer need only follow the employment contract.
I was advised to seek legal help but this would be a financially foolish move because I will be fighting with a MNC with endless legal resources.
By God”s will, I found another job almost immediately, but the company downsized just before my confirmation period was due.
I was 7 work days from my confirmation.
I had to go immediately and was given 2 weeks wages.
Again I wrote to MOM, and got the standard reply.
I also wrote to the Workers Party because I was in the Aljunied constituent, and did not get any reply from the 3 GRC MPs.
My point here is that if you are young and mobile, the PMET situation is probably of no consequence but when you have worked for a long period with a company and you are in your late 40s to 50s, you will feel the pain of the lack of protection of the labor law.
When you are much older, you will have more commitments like a house, children university education and healthcare.
On top of this, if you have worked for an extended period with a company, you will have to start all over again with a new company and there is also an assumption that by then you would be in a senior position.
So the combination of long service with a company, assumed seniority in terms of position, age and more family commitments will work against you if you lose your job, and the sad thing is that as of today, the labor law does not give you any form of protection.
The MOM guideline (which is not enforceable) is that companies are encouraged to offer for each year of service some form of compensation like 2 weeks or 1 month salary. The reality is that almost all MNCs that I know will opt for the legal approach because nobody wants to be responsible for making the subjective guideline recommended.
I can give you an example of how MNCs works. I had a country manager who was to be fired in Malaysia and compensated based on contract notice terms.
He countered with a term called ‘constructive dismissal’ and cited real cases whereby the court has ruled 100% against the employer. The company in question had internal discussions and no manager wanted to make the call on how much to pay the employee, reason being that there was no legal guideline.
The sad conclusion from the management was to wait for the employee to sue the company, and then let the court rule and decide the amount, and the company will pay accordingly.
In this manner, no manager in the company will be accountable or need to justify for the compensation amount. The truth is that in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and China, the labor law is either overly protective of the employee or there is an equitable balance of protection. In all countries, all employees regardless of blue or white collar are covered by the respective labor laws.
In the countries mentioned, compensation for severance for whatever reasons except for criminal reasons are based on a minimum approach of per year of service. Coming back to Singapore. If you are in your late 40s to 50s, it is very likely you are already in a senior position with a relatively high income, and will have substantial financial commitments.
If you are out of a job like I am, then life will be a challenge to get yourself employed due to the scarcity of senior positions, and therefore the period of employment will likely be much longer. It is precisely people like these PMETS, myself included, would require protection from the country labor laws. I am not advocating for preferential treatment but we should be no different from our regional neighbours.
So I have some advise for fellow Singaporeans.
If you are in your 30s or early 40s, please save or invest your money wisely. If you plan to have children, do it as early as possible so that you can be financially free of commitments when you are in your mid 50s.
Be as debt free as possible, and buy as much insurance as you can when you are young and healthy.
For the late 40s to 50s, we should continue to lobby the PMETs labor law changes.
Keep in mind that there are many foreign talent that are PMETs also but the senior ones will probably have a labor contract that is signed in their respective countries which will have different labor law implications. Being laid off or losing your job is becoming quite a common event in ones career. I would expect at least 1 layoff in one’s career.
The key is not to face such situation when you are in your late 40s to 50s. Until the PMETs are protected, the ideals of a benevolent company, company loyalty, and that company will show compassion to employees are largely outdated. I am not saying that these do not exist but these will be the exceptions.
Bottom line, what could have been done.
This is not the fault of the company. All companies are programmed to function to protect their interest, and the employeesimplementing the termination are merely hired guns.
What could have been done is that we have a proper labor law that has clear and proper rules that protects the employee, and at the same time, and provide a clear and accountable rule for the company to execute without need for subjective discussions and decisions.