Higher wage subsidies for S'porean workers extended to more sectors hit by Covid-19, support to last 10 months: DPM Heng

The scheme will also be extended by one month to cover wages paid in August. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - More firms in sectors such as construction, retail and aerospace will be eligible for higher tiers of wage subsidies under the latest $2.9 billion enhancement to the Jobs Support Scheme, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday (May 26).

The scheme, first announced in February, will also be extended by one month to cover wages paid in August, he said, in a speech detailing measures in the fourth Covid-19 support package.

This means employers will receive wage subsidies for all local employees for 10 months instead of nine. This will cost the Government $23.5 billion in all.

Firms will receive the additional month of subsidies in the October payout - the last of four payouts.

The Jobs Support Scheme covers between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for all 1.9 million local employees.

These workers are employed by more than 140,000 enterprises, which are facing both immediate challenges as well as structural changes that threaten their survival, said Mr Heng.

"Businesses are trying hard to get back on their feet and reopen safely as they emerge from the circuit breaker. We are fully behind them, and will further strengthen our support for businesses on the 3Cs - cash flow, costs, and credit," he said.

Those that cannot resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker ends on June 1 will receive higher subsidies of 75 per cent of wages until August, or when they are allowed to reopen, whichever comes earlier, Mr Heng told the House.

This includes retail outlets, gym and fitness studios, and cinemas, he added.

The higher subsidy level of 75 per cent was originally provided to all employers of local workers for April and May, to tide businesses through the circuit breaker period during which most workplaces had to shut to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said the types of firms eligible for the different tiers of support under the Jobs Support Scheme will be reclassified to help those more severely impacted, based on feedback from industry associations and businesses.

Originally, aviation and tourism sector companies would continue to get 75 per cent of wages after the circuit breaker, while firms in the food services industry would receive 50 per cent of wages. Other firms receive the base level of 25 per cent.

Now, firms in the aerospace sector - including those in maintenance, repair, and operations - as well as money changers and regional ferry operators, among others, will also receive 75 per cent wage support. Cinema operators, certain retailers and marine and offshore firms are among those that will also receive 50 per cent support.

Eligible firms will receive retrospective payouts to top up what they have received so far by July.

Firms in the built environment sector, which includes construction, will receive higher subsidies of 75 per cent for wages paid between June and August, as they are affected by the phased and gradual resumption of activities, said Mr Heng.

He also thanked firms which have returned or donated their Jobs Support Scheme payouts as they have not been as badly affected by the pandemic, and urged others to use the subsidies to retain their staff, speed up adaptation and move towards a viable business model.

"Please make full use of the schemes available to train workers and upgrade your corporate capabilities. Time is running out, please act fast!" he said.

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In his speech, which once again focused on protecting jobs and livelihoods, Mr Heng also announced measures to help firms manage costs and access credit.

Firms which cannot resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker ends will receive foreign worker levy waivers and rebates for up to two more months, until July.

As for credit, Mr Heng said $285 million will be set aside to catalyse and bring in at least an equal amount in matching private investments, to provide financing support for promising startups so they can sustain their innovation and entrepreneurship activities.

The deputy prime minister also highlighted the built environment sector as one needing additional support, as there are many significant infrastructure projects, including MRT lines and public housing, that must continue to be planned and built.

The Government will co-share the additional costs that will be incurred by businesses who will need to meet additional requirements in order to resume their existing projects safely, he said.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and the Building and Construction Authority will announce the details later, he added.

Most businesses are expected to re-open by July, and the support in this year's budgets would enable most sectors to recover in the coming months, he said.

The Government will consider providing additional help for some sectors, such as aviation and tourism, which will remain affected by the restrictions on global travel for the foreseeable future. The help will depend on the situation and longer-term shape of these industries, and plans for the economy, said Mr Heng.

He added that the Covid-19 crisis comes at a time when enterprises are facing not only immediate challenges, but also structural changes that threaten their survival.

Some workers will lose their jobs, and some of these jobs will not come back while others will look different going into the future.

"Our economy is undergoing a sea change. Even as we navigate through the current storm, we must stay on course, and set our direction right, to prevail over the challenges ahead," said Mr Heng.

He stressed that the tripartite structure of cooperation between the Government, employers and unions that has served Singapore well will need to be reinforced.

"Each of us must do our part - businesses need to adapt and transform, and workers need to adapt and re-skill," he said.

"You have my assurance that the Government will provide strong support, to bring all parties together to navigate through these turbulent waters."

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