Singapore travel retailer DFS retrenches employees working at Changi Airport, T Galleria and Chai Chee

Travel retailer DFS announced that it conducted a ‘workforce reduction exercise’ last week involving staff members from its T Galleria shop on Scotts Road and at Changi Airport, as well as its shared services centre in Chai Chee. ― DFS Singapore Changi Airport/Facebook pic via TODAY
Travel retailer DFS announced that it conducted a ‘workforce reduction exercise’ last week involving staff members from its T Galleria shop on Scotts Road and at Changi Airport, as well as its shared services centre in Chai Chee. ― DFS Singapore Changi Airport/Facebook pic via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Oct 3 — Some employees working with travel retailer DFS have been told that they have lost their jobs or are on their way out of the company.

The Hong Kong-based company, which runs duty-free stores, announced yesterday that it conducted a “workforce reduction exercise” last week involving staff members from its T Galleria shop on Scotts Road and at Changi Airport, as well as its shared services centre in Chai Chee.

Some of those working at T Galleria and Chai Chee have been laid off with immediate effect, while others will exit over the next several months, it said in a statement.

A spokesperson from DFS said that employees working in the liquor and tobacco concession operations at Changi Airport were also given formal notice of their termination of employment, which will take effect in June 2020, when a new operator assumes management.

Travel retail publication The Moodie Davitt Report named industry giants Lotte Duty Free, The Shilla Duty Free and Gebr Heinemann among those that have put in bids to operate the concession.

The retrenched employees would receive two weeks' salary for each year of service, capped at 13 years or the equivalent of 26 weeks' pay, CNA reported. They could either serve out their notice period or be paid in lieu of notice. 

This is more than the original offer last week of a severance package capped at 13 weeks of pay, and serving notice or payment in lieu of notice period.

The new terms were announced yesterday morning in meetings.

DFS has declined to disclose to TODAY how many employees have been affected by this retrenchment exercise, though it stated that it continues to employ “almost 1,000” staff members in Singapore.

It was reported last week that 60 workers were told to leave with immediate effect on September 26, with most of them from T Galleria.

DFS told the media in August that 500 employees affected by its decision to close its tobacco and liquor stores at Changi Airport will be provided with “a number of options”, including working for the new operator or being redeployed to other outlets in Singapore.

That came after its decision not to bid for a duty-free liquor and tobacco concession at Changi Airport. It has been operating there for 38 years and its lease expires in June next year.

The company’s chairman and chief executive officer Ed Brennan said then that it was not “financially viable” to stay at Changi due to “changing regulations concerning the sale of liquor and tobacco” and the “global context of geopolitical uncertainty”.

It was announced in this year’s national Budget that duty-free alcohol allowance would be reduced to 2L from the current 3L. And from July 2020, all tobacco products in Singapore will be required to be sold in plain packaging with graphic health warnings covering at least 75 per cent of the packet.

On Sunday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo put up a Facebook post on the move by DFS, saying that companies should handle retrenchment “responsibly and sensitively”.

"I think DFS could have better handled their recent retrenchment exercise, particularly in the way they communicated with their employees and how they offered the severance packages."

In its latest statement, DFS said that the group is “committed to carrying out (the retrenchment) exercise in a fair and sensitive manner”, and that it has in place a “series of measures” to assist affected staff members.

The spokesperson also said that these measures are aligned with the Tripartite Advisory from the tripartite partners, namely the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

“We will continue to work closely with (the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation), Workforce Singapore and external outplacement agencies to provide support to affected staff in their transition in the next several months.”

The support will include “outplacement assistance” with personalised one-on-one career coaching, job-matching, careers and job fairs, re-training and re-skilling, and employability skills workshops, as well as counselling service “for those who require them”.

The spokesperson added: “We made best efforts to communicate these face-to-face with affected staff today.”

DFS said that it has received a letter on September 25 from the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU), a general union affiliated to NTUC.

“We look forward to further dialogues with SMMWU and NTUC to promote good industrial relations for our mutual benefit and that of our staff,” the spokesperson said. ― TODAY

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