The facts are facts: Unemployment rates in Singapore have risen to an all-time high. Retrenchment once was a thing older workers worried about more, but in light of COVID-19, everyone’s pretty much fair game at this point — even young professionals who have only just started their careers.
If you’re unlucky enough to be blindsided with a retrenchment, how can you even begin to think about next steps, when you’re fighting off waves of anxiety as you clean up your work desk?
For 25-year-old Alyssa (not her real name), her retrenchment came suddenly — but she said that it had been expected. “The company had been struggling ever since COVID-19 hit, and our physical stores were closed,” she said.
How her retrenchment happened: “The managing director broke the news to us during a company town hall over Zoom, at 11 in the morning. They said, “If you receive an email within half an hour of the meeting ending, it’s you.” Right after that, my team started panicking, and then I received an email from HR stating a meeting time. I called my manager and she was shocked — she herself didn’t even know who they had chosen.”
“I was mostly just shocked. I tried to be positive about it,” she told me, reflecting that she didn’t have “responsibilities” that other colleagues did, like mortgages or children. “But honestly, I was probably just trying to make myself feel better about a shitty situation that was out of my control.”
With most crises in life, it’s best to approach big problems step-by-step — we’re going to break down retrenchment to three distinct phases — and the single most important thing you have to know to survive each phase.
- Phase 1: Freshly unemployed
- Phase 2: In-between jobs
- Phase 3: Finding a new job
Phase 1: What Are Your Rights?
So you just got the marching orders. Retrenchment basically guarantees that you’re going to lose your source of income, and that’s akin to being thrown off a sinking ship, onto a life raft.
It would be wise to scrounge up as much resources (read: money) from said sinking ship before you’re cast away. If you don’t have an emergency fund, whatever you can gather up will go a long way to keep you financially afloat as long as you can in between jobs.
So here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll get according to the Employment Act, and our Tripartite Guidelines:
- You are entitled to your salary and leave days — prorated to the last day of service.
- Retrenchment benefits (i.e. compensation) might be provided to you if you’ve been around for more than two years — this is non-taxable and not liable for CPF deductions.
- If you’ve been at the company less than two years, then you’ll only get retrenchment benefits out of goodwill (according to the Tripartite Guidelines, this is known as ‘ex-gratia payment’) — this will be taxed and deducted for your CPF.
- However, according to the Tripartite Guidelines and MOM, Singapore does not have a legislated mandatory retrenchment benefits scheme. What this means is that it is up to your soon to be former employer if they want to pay out any benefits — if any at all. Hence, goodwill.
For Alyssa, despite only having served a year as an employee, her company gave her a month’s worth of salary for her contributions to the company, and also linked her up with a career coach to help restart the job hunt from LHH, a local recruitment agency.
While the sessions with her career coach helped her prepare for job hunting and have her CV analysed and tidied up, Alyssa mentioned that they only managed to have two sessions before she was sent on her way.
“It was a standard retrenchment package. They let me encash my annual leave too,” she added.
But what can you do if your company refuses to cough up? Well you could lodge a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The ministry may direct workers to the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, which can conduct mediation claims for retrenchment benefits.
Phase 2: Grants to Stay Afloat
After anger and denial subside, acceptance will come. By this, we mean accepting financial assistance. As independent adults, it can be a tough pill to swallow to admit that you need a handout — but hey, everybody needs a little help from time to time!
It’s best for us to grab onto any lifeline during one of the most painful and uncertain phases of retrenchment: being in between jobs. Consider that it can take up to 6 months to find employment.
No doubt the most helpful government grant out there for those who’ve been hit by retrenchment is the COVID-19 Recovery Grant (CRG), a new grant that has replaced the previous COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG).
The CRG is eligible for those aged 21 years and above, who have lost a job after 23 January 2020. If one is found to be eligible, they will receive relief in the form of up to $700/month for three months, to aid them in their day-to-day expenses amidst a job search.
Not sure if you’re eligible? Use the Eligibility Checker here to find out what you qualify for.
A 24-year-old professional, Vicky (not her real name), has been struggling to find employment again after the pandemic – and thankfully managed to benefit from the CSG back when it was still open for applications.
“The job hunt burnout is real, so you have to definitely take advantage of whatever resources the government provides,” she said. “But the application process was easy – you only have to submit three documents, along with proof to show that you were fired because of COVID-19 or put on no-pay leave for three months or more.”
It took Vicky two weeks to receive confirmation that the grant had been approved, and another two weeks to receive the payment in her bank account.
Of course, eligibility for a scheme like the recent COVID-19 Recovery Grant doesn’t just apply to everyone. CRG recipients should have lost their jobs after 23 January 2020, and have to be actively searching for a job or attending a training programme to qualify for the grant.
Phase 3: The Road to (Re-)Employment
Every jobseeker’s bread and butter is the job portal — and there are multiple platforms online that one can use to locate their next (hopefully long-term) stint.
Vicky has been on the job search for the past three to four months. She offers her advice and experience on where to go for different job opportunities, for example, taking advantage of the gig economy to earn some income to keep your wallet afloat.
“Ad hoc jobs you’ll usually find on FastJobs the easiest, while longer term and maybe contract roles can be found on JobStreet,” she said. “But I also noticed that MNCs and bigger companies may outsource to recruiters who put up ads on different websites; you’ll stand a better chance of finding something by scouring all of them!”
There are also professional conversion programmes by the government to help unemployed individuals locate suitable opportunities ASAP, like the SGUnited Mid-career Pathways Programme.
Jobseekers can also utilise MyCareersFuture, a national job portal, to locate more opportunities (for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents only). The portal also features a plethora of SGUnited job opportunities, which can be filtered through easily in your search.
Life Goes On: Introducing the LifeSG App
What we have covered here are the most important (in our opinion) things to know for each phase of retrenchment, but there’s much more help out there. For example, there’s the SGUnited Skills (SGUS) programme that allows you to receive $1,200 in training allowances while you study full time in order to transition into up-and-coming industries.
With the Singapore government committing $193 billion to help keep the economy afloat, there’s a slew of programmes available — and we know it can get a little overwhelming and hard to navigate, as a result.
An answer to get all information in a single place is the LifeSG app, which contains three employment support modules consolidating all the information you’ll ever need for your job search and getting through retrenchment in one place. (There are even dedicated information pages for struggling freelancers!)
How to Log In
All you need is your SingPass credentials; there’s no need to sign up for another account to access the LifeSG portal.
What You’ll Find Inside: Resources and More Resources
There’s no need to open up fifty tabs on Google Chrome anymore as you try to get a grip on things (good news for us and our already frazzled brains).
Inside the app, you’ll find different articles containing all the information you need on, say, the available grants that you can tap on as a retrenched individual. There are three points of interest for the jobseeker here involving the following employment support modules, which can be found right away on the main LifeSG home page:
- Financial Support for Workers and Self-Employed
On the financial support page, you will be able to find a complete list of available grants and bursaries that they can apply for, especially if you were rendered jobless this year as a result of the pandemic.
There are other existing support schemes that have been running since before COVID, and are also listed in this section.
You will be able to find eligibility requirements and instructions on how to apply for these grants as well, consolidating all the information you need to get started on getting some financial relief – so you don’t have to relentlessly Google your way through on your own.
- Retrenchment Benefits and Measures
In this section, information on retrenchment — from notice periods to the benefits you’re entitled to — can be easily accessed, in addition to getting assistance on securing a new job. If you’re new to the concept of retrenchment and are unsure of your rights, this section is a great resource for you to get your bearings.
Clicking through to these articles will provide you with the resources and direction you need to get started on your job search or to prepare yourself, in general, as a jobseeker.
- Support for Job Search
As you’re forging ahead in the job hunt, this third employment module provides you with all the resources and information you need to prepare for interviews, tidy up your CV, and gain invaluable career advice from experienced career coaches from organisations like WSG and e2i, as well as career matching providers.
While people like Alyssa were fortunate enough to have their employer link them up with career coaches through external agencies, the LifeSG app does pretty much the same thing for the rest of us, and pools all the relevant information we need in various articles listed here.
It’s more than just interview skills. Some of these resources also provide jobseekers with a chance to tidy up their personal branding as well, and to open up conversations about their future plans and where they want to take themselves next.
There’s a lot more to be discovered in this app — and hopefully something that will be your guiding light out of this place of uncertainty. While retrenchment is something that’s usually out of the control of the employee, there are things that we can control in spite of it: where we go from here.
“Staying sane was hard at the beginning because when you’re put in a situation out of your control, you’ll start questioning everything,” Alyssa reflected. “I had a notice period of one month to serve, and managing my emotions whilst knowing I had to leave was difficult. But my manager was very empathetic to my situation and gave me a lot of time off during that period.”
Alyssa’s spirit was bolstered by supportive friends who got her through the retrenchment, and used their network of contacts to help her secure freelance opportunities.
“At some point after doing a lot of self-reflection, I accepted that I couldn’t change my fate and I could only change what I chose to do with my life moving forward,” she said. “It changed my entire perspective on how I viewed myself in connection to work and a career.”
Life persists, and so will you. Download the LifeSG app here and access the employment support modules to assist you in your job search!
Content sponsored by Workforce Singapore