Businesses call for more rental relief, wage support and loan moratoriums amid tightened Covid-19 measures

Under the tightened measures, operating capacity for malls will be cut.
Under the tightened measures, operating capacity for malls will be cut.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Several business associations have called for help in areas such as rental relief, wage support and loan moratoriums as Singapore tightens measures amid a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in the community.

The Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations on Wednesday (July 21) outlined these three means through which it seeks support to ensure the sustainability of businesses in the retail, food and beverage (F&B) and services sectors.

It appealed for landlords to provide rental rebates commensurate with the revenue impact when the tighter restrictions are imposed. It also seeks wage support from the Government to help businesses keep as many jobs for Singaporeans as possible.

Lastly, it asked for bank loan principal moratoriums to be extended to June 2022.

The statement from the alliance came a day after Singapore announced that it will revert to phase two (heightened alert) from Thursday till Aug 18.

Under these measures, dining in at food and beverage establishments will be banned, with operators allowed to offer only takeaway and delivery services.

Operating capacity for malls will be cut, from a maximum occupancy limit of 10 sq m of gross floor area per person to 16 sq m per person.

A support package for businesses and workers affected by the heightened alert phase from Thursday is in the works and details will be announced soon, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. 

The alliance consists of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme), the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) and Singapore Tenants United for Fairness (SGTUFF).

At a virtual press conference on Wednesday, SGTUFF chairman Terence Yow said that there has been "very sporadic and selective help given by landlords", and that the last time significant help was extended was last year when it was mandated by the Government.

"The vast majority of front-line businesses have not received significant support from landlords for our rentals, the main rental help (is coming) from the Government and it is coming next month," he said.

RAS president Andrew Kwan noted the roller-coaster ride which the F&B industry has been through, with various changes to dining in capacity and allowances over the past 16 months.

Asked if the latest measures could sink the industry, he said that like other sectors, many operators are at a point where their reserves have been fully exhausted.

"If the industry is (left) to its own devices, I think the reading is that many would face a shutdown, and that would not be good overall because not only does the company go down, it carries along with it all the employees as well."

Acknowledging that there have already been casualties in the industry despite various support measures given out previously, Mr Kwan said that there is likely to be consolidation in the industry, and there is a need for a new business model which takes into consideration the lessons learnt over the last year and a half.

SRA president R. Dhinakaran, who is managing director of fashion distributor Jay Gee Melwani Group, also called for higher wage support through the Jobs Support Scheme during this upcoming heightened alert phase, as well as foreign worker levy waivers to help cushion manpower costs.

The retailers’ association, in a separate statement on Facebook, asked for foreign worker levies to be waived until the end of 2021 and for a minimum of 50 per cent of rent support from landlords to be mandated.

Support for businesses for the period till Aug 18 is expected to take reference from the support provided in the previous phase two (heightened alert) period from May 16 to June 13.

Small and medium-sized enterprises and non-profit organisations which are tenants in privately owned commercial properties qualified for a direct, half-month rental relief cash payout for the heightened alert period in May. The relief will be disbursed from mid-August.

Qualifying tenants in government-owned commercial properties will receive one month of rental relief for the May 16 to June 13 period.

Some major landlords, such as CapitaLand and City Developments Limited, offered various support measures during the period, including rental rebates, delaying rent payments and waiving platform fees.

Affected businesses also received up to 50 per cent wage support under the Jobs Support Scheme for the period.

Furniture retailer Scanteak, which has 11 retail stores, echoed the call for more support, noting that its business would inevitably take a hit, with lower footfall expected during this heightened alert period.

Chief executive Jamie Lim said that two of its landlords had provided additional rental relief during the heightened alert phase in May. But they were exceptions rather than the norm based on the experiences of most retail tenants, with most landlords opting to see what measures the Government implements, she added.

Scanteak has been planning to expand its physical footprint, but those plans are currently in flux and will be depend on whether they are able to find a suitable place at the right price, Ms Lim said.

Mr Frank Shen, co-founder of seafood bar Laut, said that the unit’s landlord provided a one-month delay on rent payment in May during the heightened alert phase. 

It is in talks with its landlord and trying to see what concessions can be put in place, but plans are dependent on government announcements, said Mr Shen, who is also the co-founder of craft beer bar American Taproom.

His establishments saw about a 65 per cent fall in revenue during the heightened alert period in May, although it was taking delivery orders.

Mr Shen said that the heightened alert phase is “killing a lot of F&B venues”, which have largely been careful to comply with safe distancing measures.

“Every restaurant has different concepts. For both my restaurants, we focus on bringing the experience to our diners. No matter what we do for deliver and takeaway, food will never taste the same as dine-in; reheating doesn’t work for all food,” Mr Shen said.

In a statement, landlord City Developments Limited (CDL) said it will continue to support tenants as Singapore re-enters phase two (heightened alert), in areas such as rental, operations and marketing.

It will also continue to provide rent restructuring to selected tenants as well as rent payment flexibility for those facing severe cash flow issues, it said. 

CDL said it had provided targeted rental support to tenants, including waivers for those which had to close and could not operate online, during the earlier heightened alert phase in May to June. Close to 90 per cent of its retail tenants have received rental assistance, it added.

A spokesman for CapitaLand said it would provide targeted assistance such as rental restructuring or waivers for tenants, as well as marketing support to help tenants continue sales through its digital platforms. 

It is also extending the grace period for drivers visiting its malls to 30 minutes from Thursday, to facilitate food delivery orders.