Businesses hope key Covid-19 support measures will continue in the short term

Few visitors were seen on an afternoon at Resorts World Sentosa last month. Dr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said most tourist attractions that have been allowed to reopen are currently restricted to no more than
Most tourist attractions that have been allowed to reopen are currently restricted to no more than 25 per cent of their operating capacity at any one time.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Some want wage subsidies for local workers to be extended beyond August; business leaders say delivering targeted help is key

Businesses are realistic about the fact that Covid-19 financial support measures have to come to an end, but they are still hoping some key help will continue in the short term.

Mr Sim Gim Guan, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation, wants to see the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), which provides wage subsidies for local employees, extended beyond this month.

"The Government should taper off the JSS gradually in tandem with the likely slow recovery of the economy, while providing targeted support for severely affected industries," he said.

Dr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said the rate at which the JSS is tapered off should be determined through an "equitable formula" that takes into account the maximum business capacity of an establishment amid Covid-19 curbs.

For instance, most tourist attractions that have been allowed to reopen are currently restricted to no more than 25 per cent of their operating capacity at any one time, so they should get more subsidies than those not facing such limits.

Mr Eddy Lau, executive director of the Specialists Trade Alliance of Singapore, which represents specialist contractors and suppliers in building and construction, noted that the foreign worker levy waiver was extended to December for firms in the construction sector earlier this month.

While this extension will help those in the construction sector, many of which cannot restart work, he hopes such support can be given to other firms in a similar bind.

For instance, some manufacturers mainly supply building materials like glass to construction firms, and were also impacted when construction work was slow to restart.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday he will deliver a ministerial statement next Monday on how the Government will continue to support workers and businesses through the crisis.

Mr Heng said support cannot be sustained at the same level indefinitely, and schemes will evolve and taper off as more sectors reopen.

Mr Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, hopes to see more mental health support for workers affected by the pandemic as well as measures to enforce rental relief for tenants. "This is not forthcoming from some landlords," he said.​

  • Key Budget measures

    Jobs Support Scheme 

    Firms can get up to 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for each local worker subsidised. Sectors more badly hit by the pandemic get more help. The scheme was extended to cover wages in August, and will expire after that.

    Foreign Worker Levy waiver and rebates 

    The waiver and rebate was initially extended to July for businesses that could not resume on-site operations after the circuit breaker. Earlier this month, the waiver was again extended to December for firms in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors. The rebate will also be extended to September for firms in these sectors.

    Rental relief framework

    Small and medium-sized enterprises got rental waivers borne equally by the Government and landlords. Those in qualifying commercial properties got a total of four months of waivers, covering the period April to July. Those in industrial or office properties got two months, for April and May.

    Covid-19 Support Grant 

    Singaporeans and permanent residents who lost their jobs, were placed on involuntary no-pay leave for three consecutive months or had a pay cut of at least 30 per cent due to the pandemic are eligible for this grant, which provides up to $800 a month for three months. Applications are open until Sept 30.

Dr Cheong and Mr Sim welcomed Mr Heng's announcement that targeted support will also be provided to help hard-hit firms pivot to new opportunities. Dr Cheong called for such initiatives to be implemented in a "granular and targeted manner".

Without foreign travellers, for instance, the bulk of traffic for local attractions comes during weekends and holidays. "We have to consider how to address trends like this when we think about how we reconfigure our businesses for the resident market," he said.

Economist Walter Theseira said some businesses in Singapore, such as domestic-facing consumer businesses and manufacturers in consumer and medical necessities, are doing fine or better than before, while others are seeing revenues that are a fraction of last year's.

Differentiating between businesses that are doing well and those that are not will be key as measures continue and evolve, he said.

"For those who aren't doing well, there needs to be a pivot in support towards restructuring and transformation," Associate Professor Theseira said, adding that he hoped to see more such measures on top of broad-based wage support.

"The best outcome is that businesses survive, but if that is not possible, the best outcome is that they exit gracefully, which means that the support should be oriented towards letting the business fold without massive unpaid wages to workers, unclaimable debts and personal bankruptcy of the owners."

 
 
 
 

Prof Theseira added: "I think the idea should be to protect people, whether workers or business owners, rather than just jobs, some of which are never going to be viable within the next one to two years."

Social service organisations should also get more funding as they are now helping not only the existing poor but also the "new poor", he said.

He expects Mr Heng to fund the latest round of measures with the $13 billion Contingencies Funds set aside in the Fortitude Budget in May. "We are already close to the start of the Budget process for the next financial year and I expect we'll still be dragging ourselves out of this mess in 2021."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2020, with the headline 'Businesses hope help measures will continue in the short term'. Print Edition | Subscribe