As Singapore’s economy takes a hit due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Singapore advised his grassroots leaders to not sack their workers during this difficult time.
Instead, he urges them to train their employees, as suggested by the Government.
While speaking at a closed-door meeting with local business owners organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) last week, Mr Chan said: “When you have spare capacity now, can you’ll don’t sack the workers immediately. Take the Government’s help to train the workers, use some chance to help the workers to stay around for a while, so you prepare for the next phase.”
He added, “If you let go of the workers immediately, then we are all in trouble again.”
Last week, the Government noted that it is anticipating a knock-on impact on other related industries and firms, mentioning that it is ready to support companies and employees in case of a broad-based slowdown in the upcoming months.
The Government also stated that some of the measures planned out include helping firms retain and train their employees by helping out with their partial salary costs.
Upon hearing Mr Chan’s point, a member of the audience raised a question to the Minister.
She said that although she agrees with what Mr Chan said on training her employees during this difficult time, but she was given a piece of different advice by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) when she visited them.
She highlighted that MOM stated that she should lay off her employees if she can’t retain them.
“I don’t want to sack my staff but MOM is asking me to sack my staff,” she said while in tears.
As a reply for this, Mr Chan said that people have to change their business model and diversify it.
“If you don’t change it and if you don’t diversify, even if we help you this time, we cannot help you the next time. We will make sure we help you, but you have to help yourself,” he expressed.
Elaborating further, Mr Chan said that businesses have to learn the “lesson about diversification” fast as it “affects you, it affects me [and] it affects all of us”.
Citing the tourism industry as an example, the Minister said that Singapore’s tourism market can grow even faster. He said that “tons of tourists are queuing up to come to Singapore…but I tell Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to not take them in.”
He continued, “We now don’t go on numbers and I will not allow the Chinese tourists to go more than 20 percent, not the Indian, not the Indonesian.”
This is because he doesn’t want Singapore’s tourism industry to be “held ransom” by the Chinese market.
As such, he urges the grassroots leaders to help him at the local level as he has done whatever he can on this issue at the national level.
Think beyond here and now
Separately, Mr Chan also said that people should also look beyond “here and now” and take this opportunity to figure out how “do we position your business and economy” to move faster than other countries after the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Citing the 2003 SARS outbreak as an example, he said that most countries only prepared to combat the disease at that point of time without thinking what’s going to happen once the outbreak is recovered.
As such, he said Singapore paid attention to position itself after SARS so that the country can “recover the fastest”. This is why Singapore’s economy went up by 14.5 percent the year after SARS outbreak was over, while other countries’ economy plummeted, he said.
“This is because while we were dealing with the current, we must make sure we think two steps down the road,” Mr Chan explained.
Therefore, the Minister noted that in Budget 2020, which will be tabled tomorrow (18 February), the Government will provide help to stabilise the current situation and support people and businesses on all the challenges that they are facing right now.
But, the Budget will also include another package to help position business beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
“So beyond the immediate help package, there will be a package which I hope you’ll seriously take advantage..which is to position your business beyond the crisis,” Mr Chan explained.
He added, “Then when finally the recovery comes, we can all do much better.”
COVID-19 in Singapore
The deadly COVID-19, first surfaced in the city of Wuhan, and has spread to over 28 countries, including Singapore. To date, the virus has claimed the lives of more than 1,700 people, mainly in China, and infected at least 70,4000 individuals globally.
The number of infections has exceeded the total reported cases during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003.
On Sunday (16 February), the Ministry of Health (MOH) has confirmed three more additional cases of COVID-19 in the Republic, bringing the total number 75. This is the highest number recorded outside of China. (excluding Japan’s cases on the cruise ship)
Since 7 February, Singapore has also raised its disease outbreak response level to orange, one step below red.