Tech workers left hanging as e-commerce arm Sea Shopee cancels job offers

By Chen Lin and Josh Ye

SINGAPORE/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce company Shopee has canceled dozens of job offers over the past two weeks, sources said, a move that began shortly after parent Sea Ltd announced

Four people interviewed by Reuters who participated in a WeChat group of about 60 people set up to discuss Shopee’s withdrawal of bids said their bids were withdrawn days before they started operations.

A 27-year-old engineer who asked that only his first name Wang be used said the call came a week after he arrived in Singapore, having quit a job in Shanghai with TikTok owner Bytedance.

“I thought it was a scam call…until I realized it was a widespread withdrawal of offers from Shopee,” said Wang, who by then had paid a down payment to rent a house.

Singapore-based Sea said it recently canceled some offers on Shopee, but declined to say how many.

“Due to adjustments to hiring plans in some technology teams, some roles at Shopee are no longer available. We are working closely to support those affected,” a company spokesperson said.

The move follows other recent job cuts at Sea. Staff at Booyah!, a gaming live streaming app that is part of Sea’s gaming unit Garena, have been told they will be let go and the app will no longer be updated, separate sources told Reuters, adding that the projects at Sea’s development facility was also TERMINATED.

Earlier this year, media reports also reported that Shopee had lost headcount in Southeast Asia, Mexico and Latin America. Shopee declined to comment on these reports.

PEISIMISTIC TONE

As recently as March, Sea said it would continue to invest in Shopee, which competes with Alibaba Group Holding’s Southeast Asian arm Lazada, and that growth for the unit remained top of its mind.

But last month, Sea withdrew its e-commerce forecast for the year. Founder and CEO Forrest Li noted an increasingly uncertain market environment and emphasized the need to prioritize profitability and efficiency. Sea reported a net loss of $931 million in the second quarter, more than double its loss in the same period a year earlier.

“Their tone has never been more pessimistic,” said Ke Yan, chief analyst at Singapore-based DZT Research, who added that Sea’s strategy to use Garena’s cash flow to offset Shopee’s cash burn did not was sustainable.

Sea’s handling of the layoffs was “ugly and embarrassing” and likely to damage its reputation, he said.

Sea saw its market value soar to more than $200 billion last October as its Garena unit rose in popularity during the pandemic, but its shares have fallen since then and are now worth just $27 billion.

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower said the relevant authorities were aware of complaints about Shopee and were in contact with the company to find out more, but also said that in such cases the parties should find an amicable solution in good faith.

The four people interviewed by Reuters said Shopee offered a month’s salary as compensation and, in cases where people have flown in from abroad, will reimburse the cost of air tickets and temporary accommodation.

While the possibility of legal action has been discussed in the WeChat Group, those hanged by Shopee are more interested in finding a new job.

“The cost of taking legal action is very high. I just want to move on and find a new job,” said one of the four people interviewed by Reuters, who declined to be named.

For his part, Wang wants to continue his job search in Singapore.

“The cost of going back to China is very huge, it’s very difficult to find a new job given the economic situation there,” he said.

(Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore and Josh Ye in Hong Kong; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh and Edwina Gibbs)

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