Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck issued a reminder that employers planning to lay off workers should notify the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) as early as possible so that the affected staff can receive more timely help.

Minister Teo issued the "reminder" on Tuesday amid growing concern over job cuts - and worries among trade unionists that companies are quietly axing workers in small batches in an attempt to avoid bad publicity, The Straits Times reported.

Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday on the sidelines of a community event, Teo said most companies are working closely with government agencies on retrenchment matters. Still, there is room for improvement.

"When companies know that they are facing some decline and have to, unfortunately, go through certain retrenchment exercises, we hope that they will come forward to MOM and agencies quicker, and tell us earlier," Teo said.

While it is not mandated that companies report retrenchments to the authorities, it is encouraged that the information is volunteered our of goodwill.

"Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say told Parliament earlier this month that compulsory reporting was still controversial as companies were concerned that such notifications would affect confidentiality," The Straits Times wrote.

However, unionists are worried there could be a hike in the number of companies that are not informing the authorities of the layoffs, given the current economic situation.

K. Thanaletchimi, president of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union and a Nominated MP, told The Straits Times that this also means that the Government might not be getting an accurate picture of the number of retrenchments in Singapore.

"It's a cause for concern for me because I have a feeling small and medium-sized enterprises with 10 or 15 employees are not likely to notify the ministry," Thanaletchimi, who has raised the issue in Parliament, told The Straits Times.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay told The Straits Times that he has encountered between 10 and 20 such cases in the past six months.

"I wouldn't say it is rampant. But for every one person who approaches us, his company could have laid off 20 to 30 people who aren't union members, or just don't come to us for help," Tay said.

"Disguised retrenchment", as Tay, who is also an MP, had called it in Parliament recently, could come in the form of a "golden handshake", or by making it look like the worker had resigned voluntarily.

Such layoffs are hard to track, prompting some unionists to ask MOM to make it compulsory for companies to notify it if retrenchments occur.

"Early notification ensures that unions and agencies such as the Singapore Workforce Development Agency have time to help those affected, say unionists," The Straits Times wrote.

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