Over 130 firms return $97m in job support payouts

They are among more than 250 that have declined wage subsidies under govt scheme

The Jobs Support Scheme aims to help firms retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

More than 130 firms have given back $97 million in Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) payouts as of May 31.

The firms are among more than 250 that have declined the payouts, a Ministry of Finance (MOF) spokesman told The Straits Times.

Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that 32 firms had returned $35 million in JSS payouts.

The scheme, which subsidises between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the first $4,600 in gross monthly wages for local workers, aims to help firms retain employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was announced in February and enhanced in successive support packages.

While MOF could not give a breakdown of the firms that returned their payouts, those that spoke to ST included local and international firms across various sectors.

Among those that have returned the JSS payouts and declined future payouts are Singapore's investment firms Temasek and GIC. Both declined to reveal the exact amount returned.

A Temasek spokesman said the company has voluntarily done so to allow the Government's financial support to go to firms that "need it the most". Temasek Foundation has also given care packs - that include hand sanitiser, masks and face shields - for groups such as students and migrant workers, he added.

Similarly, a GIC spokesman said the funds can be "better deployed to help Singaporeans in need". He added that GIC is also donating to community partners and funding internal projects such as to deliver groceries to low-income families.

Some multinational companies have also returned their payouts.

Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis said it returned $3.7 million in payouts and has declined future help. It has also donated $200,000 to the Community Chest's The Courage Fund, which is helping front-line workers and vulnerable families.

Novartis' Singapore country president Kevin Zou said the firm is fortunate to be in a strong financial position. "We committed not to have any Covid-19-related job losses."

Ratings agency S&P Global decided to give back its JSS payouts and decline future help as it is a "globally and financially sound company", said S&P Global Ratings head of Asia-Pacific Elena Okorochenko, adding this was "the right thing to do".

Ms Susan Soh, Singapore country head and co-head of Asia-Pacific for asset manager Schroders, said there was a "unanimous" decision to return and refuse future payouts.

The firm aims to raise $280,000 for charitable efforts between May and July, she added, and is donating to local charity Beyond Social Services' Covid-19 Family Assistance Fund for lower-income families.

Mr Adrian Ng, Asia-Pacific managing director for animal nutrition firm Adisseo, said it is giving its JSS payouts - a six-figure sum - entirely to charities, including those covering medical care, low-income families and migrant workers.

It has also helped local charity Willing Hearts distribute 6,000 packed lunches for those in need.

Several large local firms that did not return their JSS payouts said they used the money to retain staff, and are contributing in other ways.

DBS Bank said it has committed to having no retrenchments due to Covid-19. It has also pledged to hire more than 2,000 in Singapore.

Its spokesman said the bank and its staff are donating $2.5 million to help charities provide 700,000 meals to the needy, while DBS Foundation has set aside $500,000 for a grant to help social enterprises digitalise amid the pandemic.

OCBC Bank has made a similar pledge to keep its staff employed using the JSS payouts, and committed on Monday to hiring over 3,000 fresh graduates and other job seekers - including 500 traineeship positions - under the SGUnited scheme.

OCBC has donated $1.5 million in aid to migrant workers, vulnerable seniors and needy families, said the bank's head of group brand and communications Koh Ching Ching.

Singtel group chief human resources officer Aileen Tan said it is hiring some 800 trainees under the same SGUnited scheme. It has also raised $2 million for healthcare workers and vulnerable groups.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2020, with the headline Over 130 firms return $97m in job support payouts. Subscribe