By Elysa Chen
SOME came out dancing, some gave flying kisses and waved goodbye to their colleagues.
One might think that these workers had just got huge bonuses instead of their retrenchment letters.
During this recession, with many fearing for their jobs, the sight of happy retrenched workers is somewhat surreal.
It may have been Friday the 13th yesterday, but it was certainly not Black Friday at the Delphi Automotive Systems plant in Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 1. The company makes products for the automotive and medical industries.
About 220 of its 1,250 employees were retrenched yesterday, and there were more sad faces among those who kept their jobs.
One woman in her 50s was crying because she missed out on retrenchment.
She bawled: 'Why won't they retrench me? I already said I didn't want to keep working.'
Another worker, who gave her name as Miss Lim, was also disappointed as she had planned to set up her own business.
She said: 'I'm sad that I was not retrenched because I'm already in my 50s, and the work is exhausting. I'm so envious of my colleagues.'
Many of those who received the usually dreaded pink slip celebrated openly.
Madam Pang Tai Gek, 60, who got her wish of getting retrenched, ran out beaming, did a jiggle in front of her friends, and shouted that she would be treating them to a meal.
The line technician, who had been with Delphi for 20 years, said: 'I wanted to leave in two years' time to take care of my grandchildren. Now, I get an early retirement and $40,000! If I had retired on my own, I'd have got nothing.'
Agreeing, another worker shouted: 'It's better than striking lottery!'
As the workers waited to find out their fate, there were emotional group hugs and frenzied photo-taking.
But among some of the retrenched, the smiles were just a brave front to mask their sadness and hide their fears.
Ms Low, a machine operator who earned about $1,000 a month, said: 'After working here for 26years, I've made many close friends. I can't bear to leave. On the surface, I'm smiling, but tears are flowing inside.'
Storeman Ahmad Zali bin Amin, 40, blew kisses to his colleagues before stoically walking away.
When The New Paper spoke to him later, he admitted he was 'crying inside his heart' and had held back tears.
'I'm very worried. With my qualifications, I may not find a job outside,' said the 16-year veteran said, who only has a PSLE certificate. He has a wife and three children, aged 11, 12 and 15.
A machine operator, Madam Maniya, 50, is also worried because she still has to provide for a son, who is in Primary Two, and her mother, who suffered a stroke this year.
Quality analysis inspector Boh Ai Ping kept her job of 28 years, but was in tears because she couldn't bear to see her friends leave, she said.
She was not alone. Miss Cho, a machine operator of more than 20 years, cried as she said: 'I can't bear to see my friend go. She's really the strength and soul of our department.'
Her friend, a 59-year-old, said in Mandarin as she hugged her friend and laughed: 'The one who didn't get retrenched is crying, while the one who got retrenched is smiling.'
Many of the workers said they saw the retrenchment exercise coming and those retrenched were satisfied with their severance packages.
Ms Margarita Perfecto, Delphi's Asia Pacific manager of marketing and communications, said the retrenched workers will get one month's pay for every year of service, capped at 24 months.
They received two months pay upfront, and the rest to be paid out monthly. The payout will depend on length of service.
Ms Perfecto said: 'It is a tough exercise for us. It's very sad because part of our family has to go.'
She said the company had taken various steps to avoid retrenchment, such as shorter weekdays, job rotations, plant shutdowns and re-deployment of staff.
But it had to resort to retrenchment due to drastic changes in customer demands, she added.
Ms Perfecto said that the number of workers retrenched yesterday were 'comparable' to those in two retrenchment exercises in 1998 and 2000.
Cuts across the board
The retrenchments were across the board, but about 70 per cent were machine operators, she added.
She said the company had not targeted older workers or foreigners specifically, but had made the cuts based on its business needs.
The employees were told last week about the retrenchment exercise.
She said: 'Some employees had wanted to go, but their skills were needed for the business at this point.'
Ms Perfecto said Delphi was working with the Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to help identify job opportunities for the retrenched workers.
Madam Halimah Yacob, executive secretary of the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries and the deputy secretary-general of NTUC, said workshops and employability camps have been arranged for the retrenched workers to assess their skills and to see if they are ready for jobs in other sectors.
- Additional reporting by Han Su-ying
MANUFACTURING SECTOR WORST HIT BY JOB LOSSES
Number of retrenched workers from unionised companies in first quarter this year
Number of retrenched workers from unionised companies in electronics sector in first quarter
Most retrenched workers come from manufacturing sector, with those in the electronics industry the hardest hit due toglobal decrease in demand.
Singapore's major electronics export markets are theUS, European Union and Japan.
SOURCE: MADAM HALIMAH YACOB,
executive secretary, United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries
deputy secretary-general, NTUC
This article was first published in The New Paper.