As new dine-in ban looms, eateries, retailers reiterate call for help with rents and wages

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FOOD and beverage (F&B) and other services businesses appear desperate for help, as Singapore headed into its third dine-in ban since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Representatives from the industry reiterated calls for deeper support on Wednesday, as stricter curbs take their toll on eateries and retailers - including many small businesses.

Rents, wage costs and loans remained bugbears for the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises, Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) and Singapore Tenants United for Fairness (SGTUFF).

"Businesses who have managed to survive thus far are burdened by the loss of revenue and their ability to sustain jobs and afford rentals, the two largest cost components of businesses in retail, F&B and services," the associations said in a joint statement.

Besides wage support, the Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations has asked for an extension of a bank loan principal moratorium to June 2022, as well as "timely rental rebates commensurate with revenue impact".

The wish list was unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, a day after plans to resume Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions from July 22 to Aug 18.

Meanwhile, the SRA went one step further, in a separate statement sent to the media.

It urged a mandatory rental rebate of at least 50 per cent for as long as the tightened measures are in place, and a waiver of all foreign worker levies until end-2021.

The association's proposal breaks with previous foreign levy waivers offered during the pandemic - which excluded the services industries. Those earlier waivers were only for work permit holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors.

Still, Andrew Kwan, president of the RAS, told reporters that services firms are "really at a point where reserves for a lot of them have been fully exhausted".

"So, if the industry was left to its own devices, I think the reading is that many, many would face a shutdown," he added, while warning that job losses would follow.

Similarly, Terence Yow, chairman of tenant lobby group SGTUFF, said that rental and wage support "could be the last chance or ability for us to hold out". He estimated that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of what he called "frontline businesses" have already shut.

"What we are asking for is a 'proportionate to sales decline' rental rebate - meaning, if your sales have dropped by 50 per cent, we are asking for landlords to then reduce gross rentals by 50 per cent. So it's very fair because it's not an arbitrary number."

Labour accounted for between 36.5 per cent and 49.8 per cent of business costs for retail and F&B firms in 2019, according to a report from the Ministry of Trade and Industry last year, while rents made up 21.2 per cent to 34.8 per cent of their costs.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday already promised "a support package to all affected businesses and workers" - similar to the bailout of almost S$900 million offered the previous round of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) in May and June.

Eateries and other businesses that had to suspend operations during that period enjoyed a higher tier of wage subsidies, at 50 per cent, while retailers were offered 30 per cent relief under the Jobs Support Scheme.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore in June also extended support measures, such as a deferment of principal payments, for small businesses.

The relief on offer included applications for deferment of 80 per cent of principal payments until end-September, and appeals for restructuring of small and medium-sized enterprise loans until end-December.

But "this is expected to be the final extension of the industry-wide support measures", the central bank said at the time.

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