Businesses call on landlords to ‘share the pain’ as COVID-19 curbs tightened again


SINGAPORE: Frontline businesses, including those in the F&B, retail and services sectors, on Wednesday (Jul 21) called for help to ensure their survival, with takings likely to suffer another hit when COVID-19 restrictions are tightened once again.

From Thursday until Aug 18, dining in will be suspended and all social gatherings will be limited to two people.

READ: Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert): Dining-in to be suspended, group sizes back down to 2

The Alliance of Frontline Business Trade Associations said they are “deeply concerned with the sustainability of our businesses”.

At the centre of their appeal was for landlords to share the burden. The alliance acknowledged that help has been given by the Government, but it asked landlords to do more.

At a press conference Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME), said he has noticed a difference in the conduct of landlords.

“Last year, there was mandated legislation to share the pain,” he noted.

“I have to say that since the first Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) situation, and right up to now, although there (are) selective announcements of snippets of help … from where we are seeing it there is hardly the sharing of the pain this round.”

“SPORADIC AND SELECTIVE” HELP

Echoing this was Mr Terence Yow, chairman of the Singapore Tenants United for Fairness (SGTUFF), who said help from landlords has been “sporadic and selective”.

“We can easily say, 80, 90 per cent of tenants within our communities have not received any help from the landlords since May,” Mr Yow said.

“In fact, the last time we got any real significant help from landlords was last year,” he added, referring to the circuit breaker period, when help from landlords was mandated.

The alliance suggested a “variable” rental payment model that would mean rental rebates are pegged to sales decline.

“If your sales have dropped by 50 per cent, we are then asking for landlords to then reduce gross rentals, by 50 per cent, so it’s very fair,” said Mr Yow, adding that the rental rate would not be an “arbitrary number”.

The other members in the alliance are the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) and the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), whose representatives were also present at the press conference.

The alliance also said that while some sectors remain open, there are knock-on effects when dining in is suspended as people do not go out as much.

TIMING OF APPEAL

On the timing of the appeal, RAS president Andrew Kwan acknowledged that there are some landlords that have helped their tenants.

But he said that the latest round of restrictions come at a point where many businesses have “fully exhausted” their reserves.

“If the industry is left to its own devices. I think the reading is that many, many would face a shutdown, and that will not be good overall because not only does the company go down, it carries along with it all the employees as well,” he said.

Similarly, Mr Yow, who estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of businesses have closed down since the start of the pandemic, said that many firms are in the “deep red”.

“We honestly think that this could be the last kind of chance or ability for us to hold out,” he said.

The alliance also called for wage support measures and an extension of bank loan principal moratoriums to June 2022.

Even as it made these requests for help, the alliance acknowledged that affected sectors have received support from the Government.

The authorities said on Tuesday that in view of the latest curbs, the Government will provide a support package to affected businesses and workers.

The package will take reference from the support provided in the previous Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), which lasted from May 16 to Jun 13. At the time, the Government provided help such as wage support and rental relief.

On Wednesday, Mr Kwan said: “We are really hoping that all of Singapore can come together … as we saw last year, all stakeholders coming together.”

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