SINGAPORE: Karaoke chain Teo Heng will pay its 120 employees only half of their salaries from this month, after holding out since late March without any revenue.
But Ms Jean Teo, one of its directors, is hopeful that the salary reduction would be temporary: “When we are able to reopen, we will pay them the balance 50 per cent, as much as we can … if we can pull through, I may even be able to give them a bonus.”
The chain known for its pocket-friendly prices has closed two of its 14 locations, including its first outlet in Katong, which opened in 1989. Earlier media reports had said that Teo Heng may close up to seven of their branches.
“The longer the uncertainty is … the more outlets we would have to close,” Ms Teo said.
READ: Nightlife industry a 'higher risk' setting, activities unlikely to resume even at start of Phase 3: Lawrence Wong
While some nightspots have managed to reinvent themselves and reopen as food and beverage outlets, there is no end in sight for the karaoke businesses that CNA spoke to. Due to licensing, zoning and regulatory issues, not all venues can pivot successfully, they told CNA.
Mr Simon Sim, a committee member of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation, said they felt “left behind” as the rest of the economy reopens. He had to close his KTV outlet, Karaoke Times, at City Square Mall and owns three pubs which are still shut.
“The entertainment industry feels forsaken, we are worse than a foreign worker,” he said.
READ: Lights out, music stops: Still-shuttered pubs, karaoke joints call for help amid COVID-19 pandemic
On Tuesday evening (Oct 20), Education Minister Lawrence Wong said that the nightlife industry is unlikely to resume even after Singapore enters Phase 3 of its reopening, which could happen before the end of the year.
Activities like singing and dancing in a room with loud music are "known to be of higher risk", said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
“We have seen in many other countries where large clusters break out in these sort of settings,” he said.
He added that the Government may consider reopening some nightlife businesses on a trial basis, with “much more stringent” safe management measures.
"We will discuss with the nightlife industry how some of these pilots can take place," he said.
Teo Heng's Ms Teo hopes family-friendly karaoke chains like hers would be considered for the trials. She suggested singing with masks on, using disposable gloves, limiting the hours for patrons and other safety measures.
“Even when we are able to open for the next year, I don’t think the revenue will be enough to cover our costs but it will help us to lighten the rental burden,” she said.
Mr Jonathan Zhang, who runs HaveFun Karaoke, said the company has already submitted a number of ideas to the authorities and is eager for approval to go ahead.
These include using its karaoke rooms for private movie screenings, playing board games or other activities.
"We are not asking for handouts. We just need clarity ... like in what circumstances can we operate?" he said.
The company had just completed renovations on two new outlets – which are now sitting empty – when COVID-19 hit, he said.
"It feels we're taking the full brunt of this."
Education Minister Mr Wong has said there will be measures to help business operators and owners exit, transit and pivot to new areas, but details have yet to be announced.
Mr Ronald Ng, chairman of the Singapore Entertainment Affiliation, said most of the operators from the karaoke industry would like the Government to support them “on hibernation”, instead of exiting the business.
“We hope the Government can … help both the landlord and tenants to preserve their businesses in time of crisis. We can foresee that exiting the business will lead to more business problems and higher unemployment.”