Singapore: SME owners decry exclusion from job support scheme

  • Cancelled projects, delayed payments, and clients who go missing: these are some challenges that businesses in Singapore are grappling with as the coronavirus outbreak brings the city state to a standstill with a partial lockdown and is set to take a continued toll on the economy.
  • For Shawn Loo, creative director and owner of branding and design studio Every Matter, this means about an 80% nosedive in revenue compared to Dec 19.
  • “The impact is real,” he said. “If the situation persists, I will need all the help with the cash flow I can get, meaning that I might have to make hard decisions to cut my headcount.”
  • Employers in the city state have launched a petition to urge the government to provide greater forms of relief for business owners that, as of the evening of 8 Apr 20, had garnered close to 5,000 signatures.
  • “While it is reassuring to know that I am not facing this crisis alone and the government is helping small and medium enterprises tide through this period, many owners of small businesses are wondering why they are excluded from the schemes,” said Loo.
  • He was referring to how the benefits of the jobs support scheme (JSS) – in which the government offsets up to 75% of the first SGD4,600 of all local workers’ monthly wages for Apr 20, and then 25-75% for the remaining eight months depending on the sector – does not apply to employers.
  • Under the scheme, salaried directors and partners who own their companies cannot claim the wage support for their salaries, and they are also left out from a separate initiative for self-employed workers, which grants a monthly allowance of SGD1,000.
  • Similarly, Shawn Koh, who owns a robotics company, said that as much as he tries to protect his employees by paying them and not forcing them on no-pay leave, the nature of his business makes it impossible to work from home – something that the Singapore government is enforcing for non-essential workers.
  • The firm, which deals with heavy and bulky machineries, was unable to relocate quickly, and has stopped running completely, said Koh, adding that he was expecting losses of up to SGD15,000 a month.
  • There are more than 200,000 SMEs in Singapore, with 160,000 of them classified under microenterprises, meaning that they earn less than SGD1mn a year.
  • Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that while he understood employers’ sentiments, there was no perfect strategy or budget and that the current scheme was already “quite a big deal”.
  • “There will always be some minor gaps because there are also policy and accountability considerations, and how to disperse taxpayers’ money to help the whole ecosystem,” he said.
  • That said, Wee agreed that it would be “very good” if the JSS scheme could cover business owners, especially micro enterprises, who feel the pinch of the outbreak more.

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