Front-line businesses seek help in paying wages, rents

Finance Ministry putting together support package for sectors affected by latest curbs

Shaken by the tighter restrictions that kick in today, front-line businesses have made an urgent appeal for help as they are not sure if they can sustain themselves.

Several associations, representing businesses in the retail, food and beverage (F&B) and service sectors among others, collectively asked for rental relief, additional wage support and extended loan moratoriums yesterday.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong indicated in a Facebook post that help is soon to come for the beleaguered sectors.

"The Ministry of Finance team is now working hard to put together a package to support affected businesses and workers," he wrote yesterday. "I will announce the details soon."

The F&B and retail trade sectors employ around 370,000 workers between them. They indicated that many players were in dire straits as Singapore reverts to phase two (heightened alert) measures from today until Aug 18 to stem the spread of Covid-19 cases in the community.

"After 16 months of a roller-coaster pandemic crisis, businesses which have managed to survive thus far are burdened by the loss of revenue and their ability to sustain jobs and afford rentals," said the Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations yesterday.

The alliance, which includes trade bodies representing retailers, small businesses, F&B players and tenants, asked landlords to provide rental rebates commensurate with the revenue impact when the tighter restrictions are imposed. It also sought 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 next year.

At a virtual press conference yesterday, Mr Terence Yow, chairman of Singapore Tenants United for Fairness, which is one of the components of the alliance, said that there has been "very sporadic and selective help given by landlords".

He said that the last time significant help was extended was last year, when it was mandated by the Government.

Singapore Retailers Association president R. Dhinakaran asked for foreign worker levy waivers to cushion manpower costs.

Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Kwan added that, like in other sectors, many F&B 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."

Citi economists Kit Wei Zheng and Ang Kai Wei said that targeted wage and rental support for affected sectors should remain the primary policy response, with the package likely to be funded through the reallocation of expenditure.

Mr Wong had indicated earlier that the package would likely take reference from the aid provided in the previous phase two (heightened alert) period from May 16 to June 13, which cost around $1.2 billion and provided a rental relief cash payout and wage support.

"It's a trying time for all. Let's also look out for one another and help those who need it, in our neighbourhood and community," Mr Wong posted yesterday.

Meanwhile, landlords City Developments Limited and CapitaLand said that they would continue to support tenants in areas such as rental, operations and marketing.

They will also look at targeted measures such as restructuring rents, rental waivers as well as flexibility in rent payment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'Front-line businesses seek help in paying wages, rents'. Subscribe