Sunday 29 December 2013

Hard-disk firm HGST Singapore lays off over 500 workers

HGST moving production to Thailand; Kaki Bukit plant will focus on R&D
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

IN AUGUST, champagne flowed at HGST Singapore when the American hard-disk maker was lauded by the authorities for training Singapore's one-millionth worker through a government subsidised skills upgrading programme.

Yesterday, it was a sea of sombre faces at the firm's Kaki Bukit plant where it laid off some 530 workers in one of the largest retrenchments in Singapore this year.

HGST's American owner Western Digital is moving production from the subsidiary's only plant in Singapore to Thailand next month to "take advantage of cost competitiveness", according to HGST's press statement.

The Singapore plant is downsizing its 2,370-strong workforce by one-fifth to focus on research and developing new hard drives, before passing them to other factories for production.

The move by HGST comes three years after hard-disk maker Seagate Technologies shut its manufacturing plant in Ang Mo Kio and retrenched 2,000 workers.

But Seagate expanded its research and development team in Singapore.

HGST's human resources director Lee Wen Shyan saw the move coming, saying: "We kept production in Singapore for as long as we could."

Both the firm and its union, United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries (UWEEI), declined to give full details of the retrenchment package that both sides have agreed to. They would say only that the package met "industry norms" and "tripartite guidelines".

Retrenched workers said that Singaporeans and permanent residents received one month's pay for each year of service, while work permit holders received two weeks' pay.

Half of the retrenched workers were locals, while the rest were work permit holders from Malaysia and China. They are mostly production workers who assemble hard disks, and have been with the firm for between one year and 19 years.

The union is putting the affected local workers through free training programmes over the next two weeks to help boost their confidence and prepare them for job interviews, before arranging for prospective employers to meet them at a job fair to be held on Jan 16.

In a post on Facebook last night, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin wrote: "Retrenchments will happen whether it be festive season or not. Unemployment will occur even if the economy is healthy and unemployment low.

"We must ensure that the systems and processes are in place to help those affected."

The affected workers told The Straits Times that they were not shocked by the news.

"This is a sunset industry," said retrenched technician Jonathan Wong.

The 35-year-old Singaporean has worked in the firm for one year but it was his fourth retrenchment in the last 10 years.

However, at least one worker can heave a sigh of relief.

Madam Ng Geok Kuan, a 53-year-old grandmother, was the one-millionth trainee picked in August. She got to keep her job.

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