Singapore: 94 staff retrenched as HDT shuts electric taxi business due to Covid-19

HDT had ambitious plans for its electric taxi business, but said on Nov 27, 2020 that Covid-19 had taken a heavy toll on patronage.— TODAY pic
HDT had ambitious plans for its electric taxi business, but said on Nov 27, 2020 that Covid-19 had taken a heavy toll on patronage.— TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 27 — HDT Singapore Holdings (HDT) is shutting down its electric taxi business due to the “prolonged debilitating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the retrenchment of 90 taxi drivers and four administrative staff members.

In a joint media release with the National Taxi Association (NTA) issued on Friday (Nov 27), the firm said it would shift its focus to other green transportation solutions such as car-hailing and electric bus services.

This move came four years after the firm entered the market. It was granted a 10-year service operator licence by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in 2018.

LTA had then said that HDT would be required to operate at least 800 electric taxis in Singapore and the firm would be given four years — until July 31, 2022 — to increase its fleet from the 100 electric taxis it had.

HDT today said its application to LTA to close its taxi arm has been accepted. The firm has other businesses such as private hire cars, private buses and healthcare products such as face masks.

Its managing director, James Ng, said while it is regrettable that the firm has to close its taxi operations and restructure its workforce, it will be working closely with NTA to help retrenched staff members find new jobs with other taxi operators or transport companies.

It will also provide retrenchment benefits to affected staff members, which include taxi drivers and the back-end team who managed taxi operations.They will be paid one month of salary for every year of service, on a pro-rata basis.

Additionally, all employed drivers will be given the annual wage supplement, and their Medisave account will be topped up until the end of this year.HDT said there will also be a one-off retrenchment benefit given to taxi drivers — both employed and on trial — "as a gesture of gratitude”. It did not disclose the sum.

For all categories of taxi drivers, the firm will renew their NTA memberships for 2021.

James Ng said: "It is with a heavy heart that we have to shed the taxi business and let go some of our dedicated employees. I feel very sad to have to tell them that we have to let them go.He added that the retrenchment package “will be fair and equitable”, and support will be provided to help retrenched staff find a new job.

HDT will also be linking affected staff with the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) for job support and employment opportunities.

The firm said the layoffs were conducted after consultations with NTA and in compliance with the tripartite advisory on managing excess manpower and responsible retrenchment.

Taxi driver Wilson Pereira, who was told this morning that he had been laid off, said: “I was not prepared for it... it really came as a surprise.”

The 56-year-old, who is the sole breadwinner for his family, was unsatisfied with his retrenchment package, which was calculated based on his base pay — about S$1,200.

 “It wouldn’t cover us until we get a better job. Even if we move to another taxi company, we might face problems such as job allocation because the priority given to us will be less,” he added.

Disruption to the taxi industry

HDT said it has been wrestling with the slowing growth of business due to coronavirus-related measures, which led to sustained periods of people working from home and restricted travel.

Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Transport, in a Facebook post today reassured those who have been laid off that the NTA and LTA will work closely with HDT to assist drivers during the transition period.

“Drivers who wish to continue driving can consider joining HDT’s private hire car and private bus arms, or joining other taxi operators or transport companies. NTA will also help those who wish to consider transiting to other career options outside of transport,” she said.

Yeo Wan Ling, director of NTUC, said NTA will link affected drivers who would like to continue driving with other taxi operators.

Those who are open to other opportunities can approach e2i and NTA, which will help them transition quickly into new employment under the NTUC Job Security Council, she added.

“Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, NTA has kept a close watch over our taxi drivers and worked closely with taxi companies to safeguard our drivers’ well-being.

“We note that this period is tough on our drivers, especially with most people working from home,” said Yeo.

In a 2017 interview with TODAY, Ng spoke of major expansion plans for HDT over the following four years.

It had planned to recruit drivers by continuing its outreach to prospective cabbies at the Singapore Taxi Academy, on top of adding nearly 300 charging stations to accommodate the expansion of its electric vehicle fleet.

The firm’s employment model, where drivers receive a base pay with employment benefits such as sick leave and Central Provident Fund contributions, differs from the rental-hirer model in other firms, where drivers keep all the fares they make. — TODAY

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