Seah Kian Peng: SMEs struggling with cost increases, more flexibility needed for hiring migrant workers

While acknowledging there might be businesses who will "take advantage of the situation to profiteer", Seah said that "legitimate and reasonable price increases" should be expected.

Andrew Koay | March 01, 2022, 04:42 PM

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Member of Parliament (MP) for Marine Parade GRC Seah Kian Peng asked for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to be afforded flexibility when hiring migrant workers, in a 2022 Budget Debate speech that addressed rising costs in Singapore.

"Many SME suppliers are all struggling now to manage the cost increases coming from all fronts," said Seah on Mar. 1, adding that some likened the situation to a "tsunami".

"Many say their costs have gone up quite significantly, and as a result, have suffered losses."

"For sure, some 57.3 percent of Singapore businesses surveyed saw their costs rise this year, nearly double the 28.8 percent who did so last year," Seah explained, quoting the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual survey.

Seah also highlighted how the Russian-Ukraine crisis can further worsen the situation as the two countries are major exporters for raw materials like sunflower oil and wheat.

While acknowledging there might be businesses who will "take advantage of the situation to profiteer", Seah said that "legitimate and reasonable price increases" should be expected, not begrudged.

Seah added that he has "no sympathy" for "those few errant businesses" who try to profiteer from the GST hike and is confident that they will be taken to task by the Committee Against Profiteering headed by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling.

Migrant manpower for SMEs

The labour MP noted the importance of migrant workers to SMEs manpower needs, amidst increases to the minimum qualifying salary for Employment Pass and S-Pass holders announced in Budget 2022.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong also announced changes to the dependency ratio ceiling and associated levies.

"I would like the Government to give some flexibility to businesses, and in particular, SMEs, in hiring (migrant workers)," said Seah.

In addition, he also asked Wong to consider one-off grants for trade associations.

"Trade associations play an important role in gathering feedback as well as explaining new policies and schemes to its members," he explained.

"Such associations may run on a small budget, which constraints their effectiveness."

Support for individuals

Seah, who is the CEO of NTUC FairPrice, also used his speech to discuss the challenges rising costs would pose to individuals and families.

To help, Seah called for a "whole-of-government-and-society" approach to coordinating and encouraging efforts that keep basic items affordable.

"This can either be in the form of giving guidance on specific items or tax incentives for doing so," he added.

He further asked for support for individuals whose incomes may have been lost or reduced during the pandemic, especially those who "might fall through the cracks".

"Perhaps it is not just a matter of having more schemes," said Seah, elaborating on his proposal.

"But helping more people become aware of and applying for such schemes."

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