SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has assured business and union leaders that workers and companies will continue to get support as the recession deepens and the Jobs Support Scheme ends.
Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, said he has been having intensive discussions with government agencies to review and adjust these schemes as the situation develops.
His comments are the first hint since the latest economic numbers were released on Tuesday that support measures may taper off rather than just come to a stop. Singapore's economy contracted 6.7 per cent in the first half of this year and is expected to shrink by between 5 per cent and 7 per cent this year.
Mr Heng said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (Aug 12) that he and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling, and labour chief Ng Chee Meng had spent the past two days meeting business and union leaders to discuss the effectiveness of support measures the Government had rolled out in the last few months to help companies keep their workers employed.
He noted that their discussions took place against the backdrop of Singapore's worst quarterly GDP performance, and as some schemes like the Jobs Support Scheme, which help co-fund the first $4,600 of monthly wages of local workers, are ending soon.
"Participants acknowledged that these schemes cannot continue indefinitely, but asked how support for our businesses and workers will change in the coming months.
"I assured them of our continued commitment to support our workers and companies. I have also been having intensive discussions with our agencies to review and evolve our schemes as the situation develops," he said.
Mr Heng added that while the road to economic recovery will be long and Covid-19's impact on Singapore's labour market could yet deepen, it was uplifting to hear of firms finding ways to cope with the crisis.
Some have pivoted away from their current businesses to new areas that play to their core strengths. Many have accelerated their digitalisation plans and expanded their online offerings, he noted.
"Some are sourcing for opportunities abroad through online business engagements," he said. "In the process, they are also reskilling their workers and redesigning jobs to take on these new opportunities."
Many ideas were also generated on how to leverage the tripartite relationship between government, labour unions and enterprises to help Singaporeans build new skills and adapt to the post Covid-19 world, he added.
"Overall, the gravity of our economic situation weighed heavily on the minds of our business and union leaders," said Mr Heng.
But he added: "The road ahead will be tough, but with determination and a spirit of enterprise and collaboration, we can come out of this crisis stronger."
On Wednesday, Mrs Teo and her Manpower Ministry colleagues, Second Minister Tan See Leng and Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, also held a separate dialogue with young business leaders from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to discuss the job situation. Mrs Teo said the conversation showed business leaders "had a pulse on the job situation", and raised ideas on ways to match more locals with jobs in sectors such as renewable energy and ICT.
She said: "I look forward to speaking to many more from the business community as we work together to emerge stronger from the crisis."