'Uncertainty and worry' as SPH accelerates job cuts

Nicholas Yong
Senior Correspondent
Singapore Press Holdings CEO Ng Yat Chung (glasses), alongside deputy CEO Anthony Tan, addressed the media on 11 October as the company announced its full-year results. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore

The mood among employees was grim as Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) began the process of easing some 230 employees out the door by the end of 2017.

Sources at SPH told Yahoo News Singapore that some employees had begun packing their belongings on Thursday (12 October), a day after the media giant announced that it was accelerating the processing of cutting 10 per cent of its work force. This was originally slated to be completed by 2018.

The lion’s share of the ongoing cuts will come from the news and sales divisions. Yahoo News Singapore understands that they will be completed by the end of the month. These two departments will see a combined staff reduction of 15 per cent via retirements, retrenchments and outplacements, among other measures.

Addressing SPH employees on Thursday morning at a town hall at the News Centre in Toa Payoh North, which lasted at least two hours, chief executive Ng Yat Chung cited a Chinese proverb in explaining the rationale for bringing forward the timeline.

“We have decided as a leadership team, rather than drag this process over two years, let’s get it done…Chang tong bu ru duan tong (let’s not prolong the pain). Get this unpleasantness behind us and hopefully, we won’t have to touch this topic again for a long time.”

David Teo, president of the Creative Media and Publishing Union (CMPU), which represents SPH staff among others, said CMPU is working with NTUC’s e2i to help affected workers with job placement assistance. “The union has been working closely with the management to ensure that workers are given a fair retrenchment package to tide them through this tough period,” said Teo.

Employees on edge

Those affected by the cuts include reporters, photographers and sub-editors from flagship paper The Straits Times (ST). Staff at The Business Times (BT) and Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao (ZB) were also cut.

Sources told Yahoo News Singapore that some employees came to work on Thursday afternoon to find their work accounts disabled, only to be informed later that they had to exit the premises by 6pm.

Dozens of employees from ST were told to go, including some from the Life! section, as well as 15 employees at BT. They ranged from relatively junior employees to veterans who had been with the company for decades.

Yahoo News Singapore understands that ZB and its sister paper Lianhe Wanbao are merging their newsrooms, with both papers remaining intact. Meanwhile, the sports section at The New Paper is expected to merge with that of ST.

Across the company’s major print outlets, many expressed fear and anxiety over their job prospects, particularly in light of the steep drop in advertising revenue. Year-on-year, it fell by $103 million, or 16.9 per cent, in financial year 2017.

One journalist said, “There’s a lot of uncertainty and worry in my newsroom. Nobody knows who is going to get the chop. There are rumours going around, but nothing concrete. I think I should be okay for now, but the steady decline in ad revenue is very worrying. Who knows if the company can turn things around?”

This story has been updated to reflect more details of the events of 12 October. Additional reporting by Hannah Teoh, Dhany Osman and Nigel Chin. 

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