Honestbee sheds 80% of staff, delays salary payment

Struggling start-up Honestbee has laid off about 80 per cent of its staff in the wake of the temporary closure of its grocery store Habitat.

Staff have also been told that payment of their salaries and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions for last month will be delayed "until further funding can be secured".

In a statement yesterday, a spokesman for the firm said the job cuts were made as it "does not foresee operating Habitat (at) its full strength over the next few weeks".

The start-up had closed Habitat temporarily from Feb 10, citing the coronavirus outbreak and a fall in the supermarket's walk-in traffic as reasons.

The majority of the 100 or so employees who have been laid off, out of Honestbee's headcount of 130 here, were "operational staff in culinary, service, retail and warehousing" at Habitat, the spokesman said.

The temporary closure of Habitat has impacted the firm's revenues, which led to the job cuts and delayed payment of salaries, the spokesman added.

On how the laid-off staff will be paid, Honestbee said the closure "has made it difficult for the company to commit on payment terms until further funding can be secured", but it has "no intention of shortchanging its employees".

The Business Times reported that some of Honestbee's foreign employees were notified that their work passes had been cancelled by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before they were informed by the start-up about their retrenchment.

These employees' work passes were cancelled in tandem with their retrenchment, the firm said.

One management staff member was "voluntarily made redundant", BT reported.

This is not the first time the start-up has been late in paying its employees. It has owed more than 200 of its former employees around $1 million in salaries and CPF contributions previously. Those payments were completed at the start of last month, an MOM spokesman confirmed in an earlier statement.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management had previously received claims from more than 60 of the start-up's former employees for non-payment of salaries.

The start-up, which is currently under court protection from its creditors - it owes them about US$230 million (S$320 million) - moved out of its Delta House headquarters into an Upper East Coast Road shophouse unit last month.

According to BT, Honestbee has moved kitchen equipment and furniture to the unit and intends to set up a food and beverage outlet.