Here are the Singaporeans hurting the most in the virus-ravaged economy

A culinary class being conducted by social enterprise Dignity Kitchen. Photo: Dignity Kitchen/Facebook
A culinary class being conducted by social enterprise Dignity Kitchen. Photo: Dignity Kitchen/Facebook

Singaporeans from business owners to freelancers in various industries have taken to social media in the past week to lament the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

They include local eatery Dignity Kitchen, which hires people with special needs and the disadvantaged, as well as Singaporean chocolate retailer Choc Spot. People working in the events industry as well as private-hire bus drivers are also among those badly hit. 

“How bad is bad … the truth is that it is very very very bad,” an online post published to the Dignity Kitchen Facebook page last Thursday read. The company, which provides food for events as well, said sales have dropped 90% as all such events have been canceled, adding that some employees have been forced to take unpaid leave or work reduced hours. 

However, shutting down the 10-year-old business is not an option. Dignity continues to provide meals to hospital staff and nursing homes as part of its social work. In the same post, it appealed for companies who would like to work with them on corporate social responsibility activities despite the coronavirus outbreak, which has now infected 345 people in Singapore.

“If you or your company want to reach out to the elderly, the disabled or the disadvantaged.

Let us know. Let’s work together during this troubled time,” it said.

Singaporean retailer Choc Spot has resorted to a warehouse sale to stay afloat, according to Grace Tang, who says she is part of the family-run business.

“Their airport and regional export business streams have plummeted 70-80% now but they are still holding on tight and trying not to resort to any retrenchment, hence the need for this sale to help their cash flow,” she announced online yesterday.

On the entertainment side, Singapore comedian Rishi Budhrani is among those to speak out on behalf of freelancers in the events industry. He said their wages are at risk due to the mass cancelation of events like concerts, festivals, and even weddings. 

“There has been a directive to cancel non-essential large scale gatherings; eg more than 250 pax … These are all practical measures to ensure we, as a people, get through safely in this trying time,” he wrote. “But it also means that those people I mentioned above stand almost NO CHANCE of getting ANY INCOME during this period.”

He also pointed out that people from the freelance gig-based economy are not eligible for many “rebates/packages/subsidies” in the country.

The government last month approved a S$106 billion budget as the country expects to run a sizeable deficit amid the coronavirus outbreak. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo this week hinted to the local press of another stimulus package to help businesses and their employees. No plans for other direct public assistance have been discussed publicly yet but are tipped to be a topic of the next parliamentary session.

Popular photography company Colossal, famous for capturing Singapore’s nightlife scene and weddings, also reported numerous cancellations.

“We’re down to our final few buffers now. With cancellations and postponement across all my 3 departments, this will prove to be THE biggest challenge for the company since we started. And all companies across multiple industries are facing this,” Colossal founder Afiq Omar wrote. “To my family members at Colossal, every single one of you; I’ve got your back and I love you guys.” 

In transportation, while Singapore’s mass public transportation services remain stable, private-hire bus drivers have been badly hit, according to Pritam Singh, an MP who said he recently met with some of them earlier this week. 

“The situation has been grim for them for a few weeks and more so after the Malaysian lockdown announced yesterday. Some Drivers have had their buses repossessed as they defaulted on instalment payments,” he said on Instagram, adding that he would write to the Finance Ministry about their situation.


View this post on Instagram


In response to my post concerning Private-Hire bus drivers, a number of them saw me at my Meet-the-People session last night. The situation has been grim for them for a few weeks and more so after the Malaysian lockdown announced yesterday. Some Drivers have had their buses repossessed as they defaulted on instalment payments. Almost to a man, all the affected individuals are Singaporeans, with families to feed. The group who saw me raised some suggestions as to how the Government could support them going forward. I will be writing to the Ministry of Finance on this and will share my notes with the National Transport Workers Union and the Singapore Tourism Board. On a separate note, I hope local finance companies and banks can also consider the circumstances of all Singaporean workers hard hit by COVID-19 and exercise compassion before calling on loans, hire-purchase agreements or at least suspend any interest / late payment charges. These are ordinary, hardworking Singaporeans and we all need to chip in to help wherever we can. #wpsg

A post shared by Pritam Singh (@pritamsingh76) on

And then there’s the aunties and uncles running smaller businesses and selling things like textiles. 

A 70-year-old man Indonesian batik fabric seller on New Market Road sold only two meters of cloth Tuesday for S$15, according to sewing-related Facebook page Sew Into It.

Singapore economists have been forecasting a full-year of recession for the trade-reliant city-state due to the pandemic. 


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