It’s been two months since Singapore has emerged from the Circuit Breaker and we are now well into Phase 2. Many businesses have reopened, and services such as facials and some entertainment, as well as hotel staycations are gradually re-starting safely.
While leisure travel is still out of the question, the economy is picking up slowly. A modest recovery is projected for Singapore — although analysts estimate that the unemployment rate could rise to 4.2%, which means Singapore’s workers are not out of the woods yet. According to June’s unemployment figures, Singapore’s jobless rate is the highest in a decade.
Over the past 4 months, the government has delivered 4 Budgets to address the challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Unity, Resilience, Solidarity, and Fortitude Budgets, a total of $193 billion was deployed to see Singaporeans through these unprecedented times, with close to $100 billion (at $93 billion) dedicated to our battle against COVID-19.
Taking a closer look at the most recent Fortitude Budget — our government’s fourth Budget this year — there are additional measures in place to help Singapore workers, such as creating good jobs and providing for upskilling to future-proof our workforce.
Let’s go through the measures in place (including those from earlier Budgets of 2020) to help our workers:
Additional support for workers announced in the Fortitude Budget
Under the Fortitude Budget, new measures announced for Singapore workers include SGUnited initiatives (there’s even a dedicated SGUnited website), hiring incentives for employers, and deferment of higher CPF contribution rates for senior workers.
As a token of appreciation to thank Singaporeans for doing their part by staying at home during the Circuit Breaker period, there is a one-off Solidarity Utilities Credit disbursed to all Singaporean households.
Let’s briefly go through some key measures:
- This initiative aims to create around 40,000 jobs by end-2020; the public sector will offer 15,000 jobs and the private sector will offer 25,000 jobs. These consist of a variety of long- and short-term positions, aimed at meeting both immediate and future needs.
- This initiative aims to provide 21,000 traineeships for local first-time job seekers such as fresh grads. Application is now open.
- There will also be 4,000 traineeships available for local mid-career job seekers. This will aid them in learning new skills and embarking on new careers.
- This initiative, which is being rolled out progressively from July 2020, aims to provide training courses for about 30,000 job seekers to upgrade their skills while job hunting.
- Job seekers can receive a training allowance of $1,200 per month for the course duration (6 to 12 months) to cover their basic expenses.
Hiring incentive for employers
- This incentive was introduced as part of the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package in the February 2020 Unity Budget, but enhanced at the May 2020 Fortitude Budget to cover local workers of all ages in view of the COVID-19 situation.
- Employers hiring local workers of all ages, who have completed eligible reskilling and training programmes, can receive a hiring incentive.
- For workers under 40 years’ old: Incentive of 20% of monthly salary for 6 months, capped at $6,000 in total.
- For workers aged 40 and above: Incentive of 40% of monthly salary for 6 months, capped at $12,000 in total.
For senior workers
- The increase in CPF contribution rates for senior workers (aged 55 to 70) will be deferred by 1 year to January 2022.
One-off Solidarity Utilities Credit of $100
- This will benefit households with at least 1 Singapore Citizen and covers all property types. It will be credited in eligible households’ July or August utilities bills with SP Group. This is on top of other cash payouts under the Enhanced Care & Support Package.
Building on existing measures announced in previous Budgets of 2020
For ease of reference, these are categorised into short-term measures for immediate relief, and long-term measures intended to position Singapore’s workers well for the road ahead.
|Short-term measures||Longer-term measures|
|Jobs Support Scheme (JSS)||Adapt and Grow redeployment programmes|
|Enhanced Wage Credit Scheme (WCS)||Self-employed Persons (SEPs) Training Support Scheme|
|Self-employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS)||SGUnited Jobs (new)|
|COVID-19 Support Grant||SGUnited Traineeships (new)|
|Temporary Relief Fund||SGUnited Skills (new)|
|Point-to-Point Support Package for private hire car and taxi drivers||Hiring incentive for employers (new)|
|Private bus owners get 1-year road tax rebate and 6-month waiver of certain season parking charges||Enhanced training support (higher course fee subsidies of 90% and up to $10 hourly absentee payroll|
|Deferment of higher CPF contribution rates for senior workers (new)||Global Ready Talent Programme for enhanced support for internships|
|Workfare Special Payment||Next Bound of SkillsFuture|
|NTUC Care Fund (COVID-19) to help workers and SEPs||SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package|
|3-month deferment of income tax payments for self-employed persons||Senior Worker Support Package|
Of note are the enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme, and there’s also been more money set aside for the COVID-19 Support Grant.
Enhanced Jobs Support Scheme (JSS)
The latest enhancements to JSS will help employers retain workers and protect their livelihoods.
- The government cofunds up to 75% of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee for 10 months, with payouts in April, May, July and October 2020.
- For companies that are not allowed to resume operations, the government will continue to provide wage support at 75% until August 2020, or when the business is allowed to reopen, whichever is earlier.
- There is also increased support for sectors that are particularly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, such as aerospace, retail, marine and offshore. The support will be increased from 25% to 50%, or 75%.
Additional $800 million set aside for COVID-19 Support Grant
Lower- and middle-income Singaporeans who have:
- Lost their jobs;
- Placed on no-pay leave; or
- Faced significantly reduced salaries due to COVID-19
Can receive a cash grant of $800 a month for 3 months to tide them through this difficult period.
- An additional $800 million was set aside for the COVID-19 Support Grant to continue supporting Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who need this extra support.
How these new Fortitude Budget measures further support Singapore workers
MoneySmart spoke to some of our readers to find out what they thought of the new Fortitude Budget measures. Here are some soundbites:
1. On coping during the COVID-19 pandemic
|Jeremy, 44, a project and operations director, says that work has been busy for him. “Clients have been expecting work to be done quicker, as they have more ‘spare time’ on their hands,” he says. Especially during the Circuit Breaker phase where employees were working from home, this cut out the need for commuting to office, having working meals and socialising for extended periods with colleagues.|
|Andrea, 27, works in the F&B industry as a chef. As dining-in was not allowed during the Circuit Breaker period, her restaurant was temporarily closed before gradually opening up for takeaway/delivery and now, during Phase 2, for dining-in. Her colleagues were told to clear their leave, and when they ran out of leave days, they were put on no-pay leave. Some staff were retrenched, others sent for training courses, and all employees took a paycut of at least 30%.|
|On the other hand, Karen, 35, is currently unemployed and looking for a job. She says: “The job search situation has been a little bit more complicated, not just because of companies cooling their heels on headcount and hiring, but also because the idea of work-from-home when starting a new job with a learning curve adds additional complications.”|
|Kin Yew, 52, was retrenched from his job just before Circuit Breaker and has resorted to driving a private hire vehicle and doing food deliveries. It’s been difficult, as he still has children in school (one is in Junior College, the other in University — they have taken on part-time/freelance work to help with expenses as well).|
|And for Christopher, 35, a self-employed web developer, it’s “life as usual”. Just as he did pre-pandemic, nothing has changed — he continues to spend most of his time at home in front of the computer.|
2. Sentiments towards the Budget measures
|Jeremy’s company was not affected by COVID-19, and he is disappointed that there have been no additional payouts by his company, in terms of bonuses (from the government’s co-funding of salaries) being passed down to staff. He was also not sent for upskilling under the Enhanced Training Support, although the company can gain from course fee subsidies and absentee payroll. However, he is glad that he still has a job, and plans to use his SkillsFuture Credits to pursue a new skill.|
|In Andrea’s case, she has benefitted from the Jobs Support Scheme as her bosses managed to pay her full salary during the months when the restaurant was closed. Now, her work is a mix of training courses (with the enhanced training support) via video conferencing at home, and returning to the restaurant to fulfil her 6-day work week. Some of her courses are also paid for with SkillsFuture credits. Her pay may soon be cut by 30% if business fails to get back on track, but she is able to turn to the COVID-19 Support Grant for financial help if needed.|
|While Karen has yet to take advantage of the measures for upskilling while job hunting, she says that she is fully supportive of the policies available. She adds: “The SGUnited Jobs and Traineeships schemes, and hiring incentives for employers set the right incentives for employers, and provide real working experience and teach employable skills for job seekers.”|
Kin Yew has benefitted from the COVID-19 relief measures, such as the COVID-19 support grant. He is also eligible for the Point-to-Point Support Package. He says: “I’m thankful that the government provides support, and I don’t need to worry about my household expenses as there are also rebates for utilities bills. For digitalisation, my kids have been teaching me how to effectively use my smartphone, so I can deliver food orders and reply to messages from passengers on Grab. However, I’m sure for my peers who don’t have such help at home, there are many courses for them to take with their SkillsFuture Credits.”
He adds: “It’s also heartening that there are hiring incentives in place for workers over 40, as well as other measures that benefit mid-career workers as well as senior workers — which I will be in just a few years’ time. After this crisis is over, I hope to rejoin the workforce as a full-time employee.”
Unfortunately, Christopher is not eligible for SIRS due to his property’s annual value. He has yet to tap on the SEP Training Support Scheme, as he currently prefers “self-training by means other than official, government accredited coursework”.
But while he has his preferences, he appreciates what is being done. He says: “I think every little bit helps, and our government spending billions on relief during a time of crisis is proof that they are, in fact, here to serve the people, despite their more conservative and heavy-handed methods during times of peace.”
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it some good as well. He adds: “The crisis has catalysed an underlying change badly needed within the Singapore economy. For years, I have observed a resistance towards digitalisation by businesses, mostly headed by the older generation of business-owners (not their fault of course), thinking that the costs involved outweigh the benefits. This was the change we all needed to make, and I’m glad our government is here to ease the pain with its digitalisation for businesses initiatives.”
Building on past Budgets
2020 has been an unprecedented year, with 4 Budgets delivered over 4 months to tide Singaporeans through the pandemic. From Unity to Resilience, to Solidarity, and then to Fortitude, these Budgets built upon one another to further provide support to Singaporeans. As we slowly ease further into Phase 2 of our re-opening, the Fortitude Budget signals our resolve to overcome current challenges and move forward together.
With one of the focal points being on “Creating Good Jobs, Upskilling for the Future” as laid out in the Fortitude Budget, there is hope that this could put the brakes on our increasing unemployment rate, as we look forth to the economy recovering after this storm passes. The many upskilling opportunities available, as well as training opportunities for those seeking to move into another, less-affected sector, and incentives for older workers, will also put Singapore workers in good stead for the long run.
What remains is for us to make full use of the available support, prepare ourselves well, so that we can all emerge stronger from this crisis.
For more information on the Budgets of 2020 measures, visit the Singapore Budget website.