When Covid-19 first hit, most of us probably never saw it coming, nor expected it to be a long drawn battle. It was commonly compared to SARS, and some of us thought the worst would be over in 8 months. Many faced retrenchments and financial difficulties during the pandemic. Nevertheless, out of this situation, we have seen the resilience of our people and the Singapore spirit. In particular, we have also seen how some Singaporeans have stepped out of their comfort zones to help others.
Today, we look at the story of Kesavan Vasundran, who is the Assistant Manager for Logistics at Suntec Singapore. He is also the President of the Building Construction And Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU).
Fought for 9 people from getting retrenched
As Kesavan is from the events industry, you can imagine how worried he was about his and his colleagues’ job security when Covid-19 seemed to be something that would stay.
He worked with the management, together with other union leaders, to think of cost cutting measures that could save more jobs. These measures include having staff take annual leave or take unpaid leave and collectively taking a pay cut. Those these measures were sufficient initially in preventing any retrenchments, the impact of the Covid-19 downturn on the events industry was so severe that the company had no choice but to retrench some staff.
Kesavan felt disappointed initially but continued to fight for his colleagues. He negotiated with management to keep as many staff as they possibly could.
“At first, I felt like I had lost the battle. As much as possible, I wanted more people to stay. We tried our best… We pushed, and pushed, and pushed. We asked the management, ‘Why can’t we go for a bigger pay cut? Let’s hold for few more months as the Government is giving subsidies and grants. We tried as much as possible, and we were able to save another eight or nine workers. I know that’s not a huge number, but that is still nine people whom we fought for and made sure they kept their job.”
Many Singaporeans may have the misconception that unions are no longer relevant to the employees of today. However, Kesavan is a real-life example of what union leaders and unions do. During Covid-19, we also heard stories of unions stepping out to help Singaporeans facing retrenchment.
Helping those facing retrenchment find another job
Kesavan’s help for his colleagues did not stop there. In his role as a union leader, he worked with industrial relations officers and e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) to find at least three to four job opportunities for his colleagues who were unfortunately retrenched. It helped that he had organised events with his colleagues previously and knew them personally. Hence, he was better aware of their needs whilst helping them.
Many people may not know this but union leaders are not paid for their role. They are volunteers who choose to step up to help their colleagues.
When asked why he became a union leader, Kesavan said,
“When I had problems, there was somebody to help me. It’s the same thing I’m doing for my other colleagues now – I want to help them settle their issues and pull them up to have a better future.”