Extra help wanted in downturn

Mr Choo says that while it is good "that we don't have to pay higher levy fees for another year... what we really need is for them to go down".
Mr Choo says that while it is good "that we don't have to pay higher levy fees for another year... what we really need is for them to go down".ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

For companies in the hard-hit marine sector, such as Rapid Offshore & Marine, it is all about survival.

The firm - hurt by the oil price collapse in 2014, which took a massive toll on related businesses - has been aggressively cutting costs for the last two years.

Rapid's core business is in providing air control systems for rigs and vessels in the sector.

It has restructured by subsuming all its four units into one holding company, and slashed staff strength to 100, from 300. Workers have taken pay cuts and freezes.

Still, the pain has not stopped, especially as competition tightens in a market glutted with supply. Its revenues keep shrinking, from about $30 million-$40 million some five years ago amid an industry boom, to $15 million last year.

"We've looked into every corner to cut costs and save on expenses to remain competitive, but it hasn't been enough," chairman Jeffrey Choo, 59, told The Straits Times.

Rapid's biggest woe is still hefty foreign worker costs, including levies, which make up the largest part of its overall costs, at 25 per cent.

This is why Mr Choo is underwhelmed by the Government's move to defer the planned hike in foreign worker levy rates for the marine sector by one more year.

"It's good that we don't have to pay higher levy fees for another year, but what we really need is for them to go down," he said.

 

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He added that much of the work in the industry is still labour-intensive - jobs which Singaporeans tend to not want to take up.

"The cake is now so small, but we have to compete with players from other markets like China, where costs are much lower. There is still business to do out there, but we need to be cost-competitive enough to be able to take them up."

Mr Choo added: "For now, companies like us are just digging into our own pockets to stay alive."

Jacqueline Woo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Extra help wanted in downturn'. Print Edition | Subscribe