Bank and pharmaceutical giant among firms that returned or donated Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidies

Bank and pharmaceutical giant among firms that returned or donated Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidies

Composite of Barclays and Boehringer Ingelheim
British bank Barclays and German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim are among the businesses that have returned or donated the Jobs Support Scheme payouts. (Photos: Reuters, Boehringer Ingelheim)

SINGAPORE: British bank Barclays and German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim are among the businesses that have returned or donated the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) payouts.

A total of 32 companies returned the wage subsidies worth a combined S$35 million, the Ministry of Finance said on Sunday (May 10).

Another 29 firms that received the funds for April have pledged to decline future payouts from the Government. 

The wage subsidy programme, which was first announced during the Budget statement in February, had been enhanced in subsequent budgets to help firms retain their workers as businesses take a hit from the impact of COVID-19.

For the month of April and May, the subsidies cover 75 per cent of the first S$4,600 of each local employee’s salary. 

Barclays returned the money because it believes the Singapore Government is in the best position to ensure that the funds are well-used within the various communities here, said Mr Bal Bagary, country manager of Barclays Singapore and chief financial officer of Barclays International Asia Pacific.

He did not reveal the amount returned. 

The bank has about 1,000 employees in Singapore, a majority of them Singaporeans and permanent residents, Mr Bagary pointed out.

“Despite the macroeconomic downturn caused by the COVID-19 situation, the bank’s position remains robust,” Mr Bagary said, citing its strong corporate and investment bank business. 

"In line with our global guidelines and to keep our support to the local community and our stakeholders, we made the decision to withdraw from the JSS in favour of the broader community in Singapore," he said, adding that the bank will also work with some charities. 

READ: COVID-19: 75% wage subsidy for firms in all sectors to be extended till May, measures to cost S$3.8 billion

Boehringer Ingelheim donated S$500,000 of its payouts to five organisations: The Migrant Workers Fund; Sayang Sayang Fund; Invictus Fund; SG Red Cross and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

The amount makes up the majority of its JSS payments, said its country managing director Gerrard McKenna, adding that the decision to donate came after “considering the immediate needs of the Singapore community”. 

The pharmaceutical company, which has more than 200 employees locally, has not been immediately negatively affected by the pandemic, he noted.

Medicine orders have recently gone up as some customers request “additional quantities to ensure uninterrupted supply during these uncertain times”. 

“In the short-term, we expect our revenue to be resilient,” said Mr McKenna, who is also the head of human pharma for the Southeast Asia and South Korea regional operating unit. “However, there is a possibility that there will be a medium to long-term impact due to COVID-19.”

It intends to refuse future payouts too, if business in Singapore and the region is not adversely affected.

Another corporation that donated the money is Dutch multinational DSM Nutritional Products. 

Its Asia-Pacific president Pieter Nuboer said the company is fortunate that its business model globally has proven to be "relatively resilient". 

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat lauded such companies for their "sense of responsibility and shared community".

"Some companies have coped better than others. I am heartened that a number of them have come forward to return the first payment of JSS they received and to decline future payments," said Mr Heng.

"I hope their exemplary action will inspire other companies that are doing well to consider doing the same."

Mr Heng also said he hopes companies will also show recognition and appreciation for workers who have stepped up during the "circuit breaker" period. 

Singapore's largest supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, is using the government funds for an existing "special package” that it had put together for its employees. About 80 per cent of its 10,000-odd workforce are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

"The additional support provided by the Government for all local workers in Singapore will go towards augmenting an existing special package that we had put together to recognise and show appreciation to our staff for their invaluable contributions and efforts during this challenging period," said a FairPrice spokesperson.

The company declined to elaborate on what the “special package” is. 

NTUC FairPrice (2)
Customers wait in line to pay for their groceries at NTUC FairPrice in Hougang 1 shopping centre, Apr 22, 2020. 

FairPrice noted that it has provided employment for about 3,500 temporary and casual workers to support higher transaction volumes in April.

According to retail sales figures, supermarkets and hypermarkets saw higher sales of 35.9 per cent year-on-year in March, as demand for groceries went up during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sheng Siong reported a first quarter net profit of S$29 million, a jump of 49.9 per cent compared to a year ago. The supermarket player had said it would give its employees an additional one month of salary

READ: COVID-19: Minimarts, provision shops see brisk business but need additional manpower

When asked whether it accepted the JSS payouts, Sheng Siong declined to comment, saying it is “commercially sensitive”. 

Dairy Farm International, which owns Cold Storage, Giant, Market Place and Jasons Deli, similarly declined to respond to queries. 

In a statement issued on Apr 28, the publicly-listed retail operator said that while its grocery sales profits went up, its health and beauty and convenience business, as well as subsidiary Maxim's saw sales weaken in the first quarter of 2020.

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Source: CNA/rp(gs)

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