Sunday, February 16, 2020

Coronavirus: Budget will have measures to support workers, firms

Businesses here are concerned about cashflow issues amid the coronavirus outbreak, and next Tuesday’s Budget will include measures to help stabilise the current situation and support workers and businesses, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

At the same time, there will be measures to help firms position themselves strongly for the recovery.

Mr Chan said business leaders whom he spoke with are looking at how to use the current situation to boost the training of their workers and to review some of their business models or production processes so they will be ready when the economy strengthens.

“This speaks very well for our business community that while they manage the current situation, they are at the same time having an eye on the future, to make sure that we are one of the fastest to recover,” he said following the two-hour dialogue with about 25 business leaders at the Singapore Business Federation Centre.

Addressing the media, Mr Chan said the businessmen also agreed on the importance of diversifying both supply chains and labour sources, help for which smaller companies can turn to trade associations and chambers.

But asked if work-pass regulations may need to be reviewed to accommodate new sources of labour, he said there were limits.

“Not every country will have the kind of labour and the skill set that we need, so sometimes we are constrained, but it is always ongoing work not just at the government level, but at each of the companies.”

Mr Chan noted that though the Government can refer to past support measures rolled out during crises such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, H1N1 swine flu outbreak and the global financial crisis, each was different from the rest, and measures must be applied in context.

China’s contribution to the world economy and involvement in the global supply chain for high-end technological products have grown significantly since 2003, he said.

“The volume of trade between Singapore and China has certainly gone up, the linkages between the Chinese economy and the rest of the world economy have certainly tightened,” said the minister.

Mr Ernie Koh, executive director of furniture manufacturer Koda, said he has diversified his supply chains over the last few years such that Chinese suppliers now account for about 15 per cent, down from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

“But if one component is missing, we cannot ship,” he added.

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Business leaders noted that some industries face greater challenges than others.

At Resorts World Sentosa, where tourist arrivals and attendances have dropped very significantly, staff have been asked to take their annual leave earlier in the year, said chief executive Tan Hee Teck.

On preparing for the eventual recovery, Singapore National Employers Federation vice-president Alexander Melchers noted that the economy rebounded significantly after the Sars outbreak and companies in most industries closed almost on budget.

“Make sure you are prepared; There will be an economic rebound, and we want to be ready for it,” said Mr Melchers, who is also Singapore general manager of luxury good distributor C. Melchers Gmbh & Co.

“Staff need to be there, they need to be skilled, they need to be ready, they also need to be motivated.”

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