SPH and MediaCorp laying off about 200 employees - Dec 08, 2004 (ST)

BackDec 08, 2004

The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH and MediaCorp laying off about 200 employees

By Chua Mui Hoong
Dec 08, 2004
The Straits Times

MORE than 200 people are being retrenched from Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp, following the merger of some of the companies' TV and newspaper operations.

Another 200 will be transferred from SPH's TV arm MediaWorks to a new joint venture company, MediaCorp TV Holdings.

The mood among affected staff yesterday was sombre. There were tears ? of disappointment and relief - and hugs when staff received the letters determining their future.

Among those moving to MediaCorp are 20 artistes, including household names Kym Ng and Bryan Wong, who are rejoining the company they left to join SPH MediaWorks four years ago.

SPH MediaWorks' chief operating officer Man Shu Sum, known for his ability to scout and groom stars, will return to MediaCorp Studios as its executive adviser.

Another 97 staff from from SPH MediaWorks, TV News and Streats are being absorbed by parent company SPH. These include staff from Channel i, which stops operations on Jan 1. Most of the broadcast journalists will join newspapers in the SPH stable, with 11 joining The Straits Times.

The news came in a joint statement released just after the stock market closed at 5pm yesterday.

It all started in 2000, when print giant SPH was given a TV licence and broadcaster MediaCorp a newspaper licence in a quid pro quo move to inject competition into the domestic media.

Financially, the experiment was not a success, with both companies registering substantial losses.

In September, a deal was sewn up under which SPH agreed to cease its TV operations in return for a 20 per cent stake in a new TV joint venture. It also agreed to stop publishing its loss-making free tabloid Streats in return for a 40 per cent stake in MediaCorp Press, which publishes Today.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore approved the deal on Monday.

It had been touted as 'win-win' situation for both companies as they sought to cut losses.

Similarly, both companies yesterday sought to portray the 'rationalisation' as one that put the companies in a stronger position to produce content which could go regional.

The 132 SPH and 72 MediaCorp retrenched staff received benefits in line with industry practice: one month per year of service, subject to a cap of 25 years. Retrenchment benefits cost SPH $5.3 million and MediaCorp $3.9 million.

The process was overseen by a manpower synergy committee chaired by MediaCorp independent board director Soo Kok Leng and comprising human resources heads from both companies.

Mr Soo told reporters yesterday the committee had met 'several times a week' over two months, going through a list of 1,200 names of those affected by the merger.

The process had been exhaustive and fair, he stressed.

Some names took just 'a few seconds' to process. Some took a couple of meetings. Others provoked heated discussions, telephone calls and e-mail.

Supervisors had given assessments of staff members. The main criteria: the individual's performance and whether there was a 'job match' in either company.

Said Mr Soo: 'I'm very happy to report that after the two months, everybody is happy ... It was a very tedious process.

'Finally, we bring together a team of people we believe very strongly is the best team to help the company progress in the future.'

SPH chief executive Alan Chan said the deliberations had been open and objective.

'We are very satisfied that all our staff were given a fair weightage and indeed the best man has been selected for the job.'

MediaCorp CEO Ernest Wong agreed, adding: 'There are bound to be some kinks here and there ... relatively small kinks, things which I don't think cannot be ironed out.'

One area likely to be of concern is benefits. For example, SPH's medical benefits cover dependants, whereas MediaCorp's do not.

Such issues will be ironed out at meetings over the coming weeks. A taskforce headed by MP Seng Han Thong, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, is also facilitating union and management consultations.