In a speech at the Supplementary Budget Debate held yesterday (7 April), Singapore’s Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad touched on a few areas in which the Government is aiding more ‘vulnerable’ groups of workers in Singapore, in light of COVID-19.

The key points are highlighted below.

Support for Self-employed Persons : SIRS and Training Support Scheme

The first, he shared, was in supporting self-employed persons (SEPs) through the new SEP Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), announced as part of the Resilience Budget and the Solidarity Budget.

All eligible Singaporean SEPs will receive direct cash assistance, through three quarterly cash payouts of S$3,000 each, amounting to S$9,000 in total. About 100,000 SEPs are expected to automatically benefit from this, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on Monday (6 April).

Explaining this, Minister Zaqy said: “SIRS will provide cash assistance to SEPs most in need quickly. We want the cash assistance to reach our SEPs fast. So, we used Workfare criteria as a starting point, and further expanded the criteria to cover almost double the number of SEPs as Workfare.

“Hence, there is no need for most eligible SEPs to apply.” Eligible SEPs aged 37 and above, who have declared a positive net trade income to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore or the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board for 2019 will automatically be notified via a letter and SMS in end-May 2020; The first payout will be in end-May as well, then in July and October.

Minister Zaqy also noted the concerns of some who may not automatically qualify, i.e. SEPs aged 21 to 36 in 2020 but who otherwise meet the criteria, or those who have spouses earning a high income but have many people at home to support.

“My colleagues and I will try our best to consider the applications of those who did not qualify automatically, particularly those aged 21 to 36 in 2020 but otherwise meet the criteria. We will also seriously consider the appeals of those who narrowly missed the eligibility criteria.”

The MOM will also work with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to provide details on how to apply or appeal for the SIRS criteria, he added.

On top of the above, the Ministry will enhance the SIRS as part of the Solidarity Budget, as follows:

  • The SIRS will be extended to automatically include SEPs who also earn an income of no more than S$2,300 per month from employment work; and
  • The Annual Value (AV) of property threshold will be raised from S$13,000 to up to S$21,000. This will include those who live in some condominiums and other private properties.

Criteria for the enhanced eligibility (Singaporean SEPs)

  • The SEP should have started work as an SEP on or before 25 March 2020;
  • The SEP should currently earn a Net Trade Income of not more than S$100,000;
  • If the SEP also has employment (i.e. dual status worker), the income earned as an employee must be not more than S$2,300/month;
  • The SEP must be living in a property with an AV not more than S$21,000; and
  • They must not be owning two or more properties.
  • For those who are married, the individual and spouse together should not own two or more properties, and the assessable income of the spouse should not exceed S$70,000.

Apart from the SIRS, SEPs may also benefit from an extension to the SEP Training Support Scheme (STSS), to take this downturn as an opportunity to upskill themselves for the coming upturn, Minister Zaqy stated.

When initially announced at last month’s Committee of Supply Debate, SEPs who take up any courses under the SkillsFuture Series and other selected training programmes can receive an hourly training allowance of S$7.50 which will help defray their daily expenses.

This was applicable for a period of three months and on top of the course fee subsidies of up to 90%.

Now, the STSS has been extended until the end of this year, and the training allowance will also be increased to S$10 per hour from 1 May 2020, with no cap on how much training SEPs can sign up for.

“For example, a self-employed private hire car or bus driver who spends 10 full days of training in a month can receive S$800 of training allowance in that month,” Minister Zaqy explained.

“The STSS is administered by NTUC’s e2i. Applications have already started since 1 April 2020. SEPs can refer to NTUC’s website for more details. We encourage all SEPs to tap on this training support.”

Support for lower-wage workers: Enhanced Workfare Special Payment, Workfare Income Supplement Scheme

At the Budget 2020 reading in February, the Government had announced a Workfare Special Payment (WSP) to be given out to lower-wage workers (earning up to S$2,000 a month) on Workfare, wherein they would receive an additional 20% of their Workfare payout for work done in 2019, with a minimum payment of S$100.

Through the enhanced WSP, eligible recipients will receive a payment of S$3,000 each, in cash, in July and October (at S$1,500 a month); eligible recipients will be notified and paid automatically by the CPF Board, and there is no need to apply.

In similar efforts, lower-wage workers will continue to receive additional support through the enhanced Workfare Income Supplement.

On this, Minister Zaqy stressed that more workers can benefit from greater Workfare support, of up to S$4,000 a year.

Last, Minister Zaqy added that from 1 April this year, the government has increased the support from the Short-Term Relief fund, from up to one month’s salary, capped at S$1,000 today, to up to two months’ salary, capped at S$4,600, depending on the worker’s income. The fund’s coverage has now been extended to cover half the workforce, beyond just lower-wage workers.


Enhancements to MOM’s Work-Life Grant for eligible companies

In a separate speech at the debate, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling highlighted that enhancements will also be made to the Ministry’s Work-Life Grant (WLG) for companies.

Currently, companies are able to receive S$2,000 for every worker who adopts a flexible work arrangement. However, with the circuit breaker measures in place, the Ministry will make it easier for employers to receive support in implementing telecommuting and staggered hours, she shared.

“MOM will enhance the WLG parameters by reducing the requirement for firms to have their workers telecommute and be on staggered hours – from a minimum period of six months to just one month.

“The enhanced WLG parameters will apply after the mandatory circuit breaker period comes to an end, and the grant will be open for application on 20 April.”

Minister Low added that the government “strongly” encourages more companies to apply for this, which provides funding for the purchase of laptops, software and related equipment for telecommuting.

Moreover, in preparing for the future, she noted that companies that are positioning themselves for the upturn should plan ahead to ensure they equip their workers with relevant skillsets after the temporary closure of workplaces comes to an end.

This, she shared, can be done by tapping on the enhanced support for redeployment programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative, to reskill their existing workers.

She added: “MOM has extended the funding period and introduced new redeployment programmes for the tourism, aviation, retail and food services sector. More than 100 firms have already applied, with more than 2,600 workers expected to benefit from this move.”


Two Singaporeans charged for breaching stay-home notice requirements

On the topic of COVID-19, two Singaporeans were charged in court yesterday (7 April) for breaching their stay-home notice (SHN), the Ministry of Health announced in a press release.

These charges were made, for offences under Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act, as both had left their place of residence for long periods during the notice and were not present at home during checks made by the authorities.

In light of this, the Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) has reiterated that it will “not hesitate to take firm enforcement action against those who fail to comply with the SHN requirements.”

“Besides prosecuting offenders under the Infectious Diseases Act and its Regulations, ICA may also cancel their immigration facilities, where applicable.”

All travellers have been reminded to ensure they submit complete and accurate health and travel declarations via the SG Arrival Card; Anyone who makes a false or misleading declaration will be liable to prosecution under the Infectious Diseases Act.

The penalty for providing false or misleading information is a fine of up to S$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months, and, for subsequent offence(s), a fine of up to S$20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months will be imposed.

For foreigners, ICA may also take further administrative actions, such as the revocation of, or shortening of, the validity of permits and passes to remain in Singapore.


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