Parliament: Targeted support for businesses, workers as Covid-19 situation stabilises, says DPM Heng

The Government is finalising a set of measures to support nightlife businesses which it will announce next week. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Efforts to boost economic recovery and create jobs must continue to intensify now that the Covid-19 situation has stabilised, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

To that end, the Government will shift from broad-based relief measures to more targeted support so that firms and workers can stave off the worst effects of the pandemic.

Wrapping up the debate on how Singapore can emerge stronger after Covid-19 in Parliament on Thursday (Oct 15), Mr Heng said this will include new measures to help the ailing nightlife sector. The Government is finalising a set of measures to support nightlife businesses which it will announce next week, he added.

It will also study how best to support self-employed workers, and consider extending the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI) scheme - a tiered wage subsidy initiative that supports employers in their efforts to hire more Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Said Mr Heng: "As the Covid-19 situation in Singapore stabilises, the next pressing task is to help our economy recover. Our support must therefore evolve from 'resuscitate' to 'rejuvenate'. To do so, we must shift from a focus on job retention to a greater emphasis on creating jobs."

Covid-19 is both a health and economic crisis, and the Government's priority initially was to channel support to as many affected people and businesses as quickly as possible. This included the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), where the Government co-pays the salaries of local workers to help employers retain them.

However, such schemes had to be refreshed and new ones had to be introduced to deal with the changing coronavirus situation.

This, is why the JGI was created, said Mr Heng, and why the JSS was extended and enhanced.

The JSS, which was first introduced as part of Budget measures in February and later enhanced, subsidised between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of wages paid for 10 months.

It now covers wages paid up to March 2021 for firms in sectors hit hardest by the Covid-19 crisis, and up to December this year for sectors that are managing well.

Mr Heng said businesses here fall into different categories, and government assistance will be tailored to fit their needs.

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First, firms experiencing a greater demand in business in the post-Covid economy will be encouraged to make full use of capability grants to expand, and hire more local workers under the JGI scheme.

Second are firms suffering from a temporary drop in demand but are likely to eventually recover - for instance in industries like tourism, aviation and arts and sports, where help has been made available.

There are also firms in this category whose failure during the crisis will significantly impact Singapore's competitiveness or national security, thus additional support needs to be given to them, Mr Heng said.

"In such instances, we cannot preclude the possibility of the Government taking some action to ensure these strategic capabilities are preserved. The exact form of support will depend on the circumstances but the bar for any government action will be high."

He added that any aid given will be prudent and ensure that public funds are well used.

Third are firms like those in the nightlife sector, whose outlook remains bleak due to fundamental changes in their operating environments and who need help to reinvent themselves.

Workers, too, fall in different categories, and the support from the Government will aim to take into account their specific needs.

For instance, mid-career professionals will get more help, especially those who have been retrenched and need to reskill to find new employment. Former offenders could also fall into this group, and Mr Heng said the Manpower Ministry will be announcing more details about how JGI scheme can be extended to include them.

Self-employed workers will also not be left out. The Government has already introduced the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme to provide relief to those with less means and family support. The Government will study how more can be done to support this group of workers, Mr Heng said.

For low-wage workers, many of them work on the front line and they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and safe management measures. To help them, Mr Heng said the Progressive Wage Model will be expanded to more sectors over time, while making sure that businesses can cope.

He said: "We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and provide additional support where necessary."

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