Efforts to boost economic recovery and create jobs need to intensify, now that the Covid-19 situation has stabilised, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.
The move requires the Government to shift from broad-based relief measures to more targeted support so firms and workers can stave off the worst effects of the pandemic.
This will include new measures to help the ailing nightlife sector, Mr Heng said. 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.
Wrapping up the debate in Parliament yesterday on how Singapore can emerge stronger after Covid-19, Mr Heng said: “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 affected people and businesses as quickly as possible. This support included the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), where the Government co-pays salaries of local workers to help employers retain them.
But these measures had to be refreshed and new ones introduced to deal with the changing coronavirus situation. That is why the JGI was created, said Mr Heng, and JSS was extended and enhanced.
The JSS, which was first introduced as part of Budget measures in February, subsidised between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of wages paid for 10 months. After some tweaks, it now covers wages paid up to next March 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.
First, firms experiencing a greater demand in business in the post-Covid-19 economy will be encouraged to make full use of capability grants to expand, and hire more local workers under the JGI scheme.
In the second category are firms suffering from a temporary drop in demand but are likely to eventually recover – for instance, in industries like tourism, aviation, the arts and sports, where help has been made available.
There are also firms in this category that will significantly impact Singapore’s competitiveness or national security if they fail – so additional support might need 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 the Government will ensure public funds are well used.
In the third category are firms like those in the nightlife sector, whose outlook remains bleak due to fundamental changes in their operating environments, and which need help to reinvent themselves.
Workers, too, fall in different categories, and support from the Government will seek 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 announce more details of how the 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 give relief to those with fewer means and less family support. It will study how more can be done to support this group of workers, Mr Heng said.
In the case of low-wage workers, many of them work on the front line and 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 businesses can cope.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide additional support where necessary,” he said.