On 21 April 2020, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced that it would extend Singapore’s circuit breaker by another four weeks from the initial period of 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (both dates inclusive), i.e. up to 1 June 2020 (inclusive), and that it would implement enhanced circuit breaker measures minimally from 21 April 2020 until 4 May 2020 (inclusive). Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat also announced additional relief measures as the Government continues to support individuals and businesses, building on the measures previously introduced through the Unity Budget on 18 February 2020, the Resilience Budget on 26 March 2020 and the Solidarity Budget on 6 April 2020. These measures include:
- Enhancing and extending the Job Support Scheme (“JSS”)
- Foreign worker levy waiver and rebate extended
- Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS)
- Solidarity payments granted to adult Singaporeans
- Temporary Relief Fund and Covid-19 Support Grant
1. Enhancing and extending the JSS
The JSS was enhanced in the Solidarity Budget to provide 75% wage support on the first S$4,600 of gross monthly wages for local employees across all sectors for the month of April 2020. The Government will now extend the JSS to the month of May 2020, i.e. 75% wage support on the first S$4,600 of gross monthly wages for local employees across all sectors will now be provided for the months of April and May 2020. The payout for the month of May 2020 will first be computed and disbursed based on employee remuneration paid in November 2019 to facilitate speedy disbursement. Future payouts under the JSS will be adjusted subsequently to account for actual wages paid in May 2020, relative to November 2019. This is similar to the arrangement previously implemented for the disbursement of payouts in relation to employee remuneration for April 2020 (which was first computed based on employee remuneration paid in October 2019).
The first payout under the JSS for May 2020 will be disbursed by end-May 2020 for employers on PayNow or with existing GIRO arrangements with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. All other employers will start receiving such payout via cheque in early June 2020. Employers are encouraged to sign up for PayNow to facilitate faster receipt of payouts.
Payouts under the JSS are intended to offset and protect local employees’ wages. The Government has also announced that employers must act responsibly and fairly, taking into consideration the tripartite advisory on salary and leave arrangements during the circuit breaker period. In line with the spirit of the JSS, employers who put local employees on mandatory no-pay-leave or retrench such employees will not be eligible for the enhanced JSS payout for such employees.
In addition, the Government will extend the JSS payout to include wages of employees of a company who are also shareholders and directors (“shareholder-directors”) of the company. The JSS payout applies in relation to companies registered on or before 20 April 2020 and shareholder-directors with annual assessable income of S$100,000 or less for the Year of Assessment 2019. The JSS payouts for May 2020 and subsequent periods will include support for qualifying shareholder-directors. The JSS payout for May 2020 will also include back-payment for companies with qualifying shareholder-directors, whose wages were not included for the first JSS payout in April 2020. The Government expects this enhancement to the JSS to benefit approximately 50,000 shareholder-directors.
2. Foreign worker levy waiver and rebate
Under the Solidarity Budget, to enable firms to support foreign workers, the Government had announced that it would temporarily redirect resources back to firms by: (a) waiving monthly foreign worker levies in April 2020 to reduce costs and ease cash flow; and (b) granting a foreign worker levy rebate of S$750 for each Work Permit or S-Pass Holder from levies paid in 2020. The Government will now extend such foreign worker levy waiver and foreign worker levy rebate by one month to ease labour costs of firms employing foreign workers during this period. This assistance will support firms with employees who are unable to work due to the circuit breaker and/or Stay Home Notice measures. Employers should use such assistance for their employees’ wages and subsistence needs.
3. Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS)
As announced in the Resilience Budget and the Solidarity Budget, Self-Employed Persons (“SEPs”) will qualify for SIRS until December 2020. Eligible SEPs will automatically receive three quarterly cash payments of S$3,000 each in end May, July and October 2020. SEPs who narrowly miss the eligibility criteria can submit their appeals to the National Trade Union Congress from 27 April 2020.
4. Solidarity payments granted to adult Singaporeans
Approximately 90% of adult Singaporeans have received the solidarity payment of S$600 through direct bank transfer of 14 April 2020. Those who have not will receive this payment through their recently registered bank accounts on 28 April 2020, or by cheque from 30 April 2020 onwards. The remaining cash payouts under the Enhanced Care and Support scheme will be paid out from end June 2020, together with the S$300 for each parent of a Singaporean child aged 20 and below in 2020, and S$100 cash for Singaporeans aged 50 and above in 2020 (replacing the PAssion Card top-up of S$100 previously announced).
5. Temporary Relief Fund and Covid-19 Support Grant
Lower- to middle-income Singaporeans who require urgent help with basic living expenses can apply for the Temporary Relief Fund to receive a one-off cash grant of S$500 in April 2020. From 1 May 2020 onwards, Singaporeans who are unemployed due to Covid-19 can apply for the Covid-19 Support Grant, which provides a cash grant of S$800 a month for three months.
With the extension of the circuit breaker period and implementation of stricter circuit breaker measures over at least the next two weeks, the full impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the Singapore economy remains to be seen. While the Government has, in an unprecedented manner and within the short span of three months, introduced various measures through the Unity Budget, the Resilience Budget, the Solidarity Budget and announced the additional measures set out above in a bid to support workers and save jobs, the Covid-19 crisis continues to evolve and poses challenges both in Singapore and across the world.
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