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How employers in Singapore are implementing cost-saving measures while keeping employee safety front and centre
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How employers in Singapore are implementing cost-saving measures while keeping employee safety front and centre

For essential services provider Katoen Natie, this has come in the form of stringent safety measures that allow those working in the office to observe safe management protocols; while for Rigel Technology, an early foray into cost-saving measures such as the option to bring forward 2021 leave days has enabled them to keep salaries intact. TAFEP finds out more in this exclusive.

When the pandemic struck and Singapore entered the Circuit Breaker in early April, companies across industries were forced to re-look their work processes. Be it the implementation of cost-saving measures or stricter safe distancing measures, these varied not just based on their operating abilities, but also on the business need and requirements during the tough hours.

In this exclusive, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employers (TAFEP) takes a look at how leaders from two companies in Singapore – Rigel Technology and Katoen Natie – are implementing such measures in their organisations, and how these have benefited employees.

Case study: Rigel Technology

When the Circuit Breaker started, Rigel Technology (Rigel), a local manufacturer of sanitary wares and sensors, saw its revenues fall by 80%. This was a result of its business being reliant on the construction sector, which was heavily impacted due to work stoppage and delays during that period.

As a result, leaders knew it was time to take on a few measures to help save costs for the firm, while keeping two things in mind - that there should be no layoffs, and that employees should continue receiving their regular salaries.

The first of these cost-saving measures came in the form of pay cuts volunteered by the senior management team. At the same time, the Group CEO led by example by also voluntarily giving up a month’s pay at the start of the Circuit Breaker.

The second key cost-saving measure was the Singapore Government’s recent Jobs Support Scheme payouts, which have helped plenty of employers to further ease cashflow pressures, by offsetting local employees' wages.

Taking an innovative stance at the third cost-saving measure, Rigel offered employees the option for to bring forward their 2021 leave days, in the event they had used up all leave days for 2020. With this in place, the company was able to prevent impact on wages as much as possible. In the process, the company then added on five extra days of leave to its older employees aged above 55, keeping in mind that this group was more vulnerable to COVID-19.

With the cost-saving measures safely in place, the next priority was to support the employees in a variety of ways. One way was through a ‘Rigel Care Pack’ for all employees, which contained items such as a personal thermometer, a pocket hand sanitiser, and a box of masks.

Through it all, employees were also given the opportunity to take on improvement or development projects that would help keep them engaged, as well as better prepare them for the future. For instance, the engineering and design team was tasked to develop a suite of innovative sanitary solutions catered to meet the heightened hygiene needs of washrooms. Notably, Rigel’s in-house engineering team was also mobilised during the Circuit Breaker to design a mobile container toilet equipped with its cutting edge and sensorised products that was later deployed at the Singapore Expo Isolation facilities at the peak of the pandemic.

All these measures bode well for Rigel’s employees, as affirmed by Ali bin Salleh, Logistics Supervisor and a long-serving staff who was affected by the decreased demand for materials. He shared: “I have been with the company for almost 20 years. I feel grateful as I am still employed and not being retrenched despite the current situation. There has been no pay cut and the company further allowed staff to take advanced annual leave from next year."

Adding to this, Carrie Tan, Group Director, Corporate Development & HR, reinforced the firm’s commitment to its employees.

She said:

We hope to live up to one of our mission of making Rigel a second home for employees as we continue to take care of their well-being, health and safety as much as possible amidst the difficult times.

“As an innovation-driven company, Rigel has always viewed employees as one of our greatest assets and a key driving force for tomorrow’s success. We believe mutual understanding, flexibility, and communication are especially vital during this period of turbulence and uncertainty.”

Case study: Katoen Natie Singapore

Katoen Natie, a global supplier of value-added logistics and applied engineering solutions, is classified as an essential services provider under Singapore’s Circuit Breaker regulations. Thus, the company was allowed to have an approved number of employees work in the office during this period.

To ensure this office operations were carried out smoothly and safely for its employees, the firm’s first response was to form a Task Force that planned out and organised a series of compliance and safety measures for employees to observe, such as the implementation of the mandatory SafeEntry system for contact tracing.

Along with this, the team also implemented a series of changes to its work processes, which included:

  • A work-from-home programme for 100% of its support staff, although their headcount numbers were approved for a return to office.
  • Split-team arrangements and staggered meal hours to ensure proper safe distancing within teams.
  • Increased cleaning of the offices and stringent visitor checks.
  • Stopping all contractors with foreign workers living in dormitories from entering their premises at the start of the spread, before the Circuit Breaker.
  • Chartered buses for operations’ staff to adopt safe seating/distancing, in order to keep them safe and comply with regulations.

Commenting on her experience working from home during the period, Caroline Liew, Senior Supervisor, Customer Service, whose work scope includes team supervision and training, noted the benefits brought on by the programme. For instance, by conducting regular WebEx team meetings, she was able to ensure that her team members working remotely were not isolated, and all job functions were running well and smoothly.

This, in turn, boosted the team’s productivity along with reduced material and environmental costs, she said.

In addition to the above measures, just like Rigel, Katoen Natie supported its employees through a range of means – the provision of masks, thermometers, and hand sanitisers; regular communication sessions onsite and via email; online engagement sessions with staff working from home; goodie bags with daily necessities; vouchers and supplements, and more.

In the same vein, Liew added: “I appreciate my company for all they have done for us, and being understanding towards our needs. They kept us updated on the COVID-19 situation through online meetings, and introduced virtual clinics and health talks. On top of that, they went the extra mile and gave us goodie packs, vouchers, essential items to keep us safe and at ease."

In a move that showcases the inclusivity created at Katoen Natie, the company also provided forms of support for its foreign employees. First, those who were stranded overseas following their home leave in end-2019 and early 2020 were placed on unrecorded paid leave.

Second, daily monetary allowance and arranged accommodation were provided for Malaysian employees in hotels, following the country’s Movement Control Order. These employees were later moved to serviced apartments upon request, in order to carry out their needs such as cooking and laundry.

Talking about these support efforts, Koen Cardon, CEO, said: “We truly believe in our company’s motto - ‘our people make the difference’. Be it in good or bad times, and especially during such unprecedented times, whatever actions or decisions the management makes, we should always place our staff’s safety and wellbeing first.

Ultimately, a company can only be as strong as its people, and the people can only be committed if we are committed to caring for them. Take care of your people so they can take care of the company.

Rigel Technology and Katoen Natie are Human Capital Partners in the Human Capital Partnership Programme.

The Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme is a tripartite initiative that brings together a community of exemplary employers in Singapore who have progressive employment practices in their organisations and are committed to developing their human capital.

Developing human capital is essential for businesses to attract and retain talent, Singaporeans to continue to have better jobs, better salaries and better careers, and Singapore’s economy to remain competitive. Employers in the programme are known as Human Capital Partners (HCPartners). They are employers of choice who value their people, and are committed to investing and developing their employees across all levels, and the local workforce. They provide opportunities for growth, continual learning and training programmes, and career development.

To find out more, visit TAFEP's website.

Photos / provided [From L-R: Carrie Tan, Group Director, Corporate Development & HR, Rigel Technology and Koen Cardon, CEO, Katoen Natie

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