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How help from government schemes kept those in hard-hit sectors afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic

SINGAPORE — Before the Covid-19 pandemic, limousine driver Mohamad Azan Salleh would chauffeur VIP guests who came to Singapore for various events and concerts. He would cover the rides for at least 10 to 15 concerts in a year.

How help from government schemes kept those in hard-hit sectors afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic

Limousine driver Mohamad Azan Salleh (third from right) met with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during a visit to Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa on Feb 11, 2021.

  • One 52-year-old limousine driver said without the help, he would have to leave the industry
  • The support ensured that this pandemic was better than the Sars outbreak
  • A 24-year-old who works in the hospitality industry used the downtime to upgrade her skills
  • She said the year ended up being a fulfilling one due to the learning opportunities she took up

 

SINGAPORE — Before the Covid-19 pandemic, limousine driver Mohamad Azan Salleh would chauffeur VIP guests who came to Singapore for various events and concerts. He would cover the rides for at least 10 to 15 concerts in a year. 

These jobs have since dried up because of the coronavirus outbreak as travel restrictions continue to be imposed around the world and live performances here can only have 250 people in the audience in zones of 50 people each.

As a result, his income has dropped by at least 60 per cent, he said.

Still, the 52-year-old, who has been a limousine driver for the last 30 years, said that the situation he is in now is better than during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak almost 20 years ago.

This in large part due to the help he has received from the Government’s support measures over the past year, as well as the ability to switch to driving private-hire vehicles for ride-hailing firms Grab and Gojek to make ends meet — an option that was not available to him then.

“The Government’s allowance really, really helped us… If the Government did not help us, we would have drowned, we would be out of this industry,” he said. 

Mr Azan is among the many Singaporeans who have benefited from the support schemes rolled out by the Government last year after being hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.

The Ministry of Finance on Thursday (Feb 11) released a paper that provides a preliminary assessment of how the Covid-19 measures rolled out in the five national budgets last year have supported Singaporeans through the pandemic.

It found that the various schemes helped to keep Singaporeans afloat and ensured that the country avoided a more major economic crisis.

Among the schemes that Mr Azan has benefited from are the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), from which he received a total of S$9,000 in three tranches last May, July and October.

He also got a payout from the Workfare Special Payment, which doled out S$1,500 each in July and October.

“Right now, we are driving Grab just to sustain a living, so the government support has really helped,” he said.

“We hope the Government can extend the help in the future.”

USING DOWNTIME TO RETRAIN

Mr Azan used the downtime to pick up various courses to help boost his skill sets as a private-hire car driver.

As he is also the president of the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, Mr Azan encouraged other limousine and minibus drivers, who were similarly affected by the pandemic, to take up courses as well.

One particular course that was popular among the private-hire drivers was the Become SG Host course, which was drawn up with help from the National Trades Union Congress. 

The course equips drivers to become more knowledgeable about Singapore’s population and attractions so that they can become better ambassadors for the country in the future, when tourism restarts.

It attracted a waiting list of a few hundred people, which was very encouraging, Mr Azan said.

FROM HOTEL STAFF TO CLEAN AMBASSADOR

Another person who chose to use the downtime from the pandemic to take up training courses is Ms Kimberly Tan.

The 24-year-old senior guest relations executive at Shangri-La Hotel attended courses on service and personal development, which were part of the Government's Enhanced Training Support Package that subsidises employers who put their workers to training.

Ms Kimberly Tan, a senior guest executive at Shangri-La hotel, used the downtime during the pandemic to take up training courses. Photo: Shangri-La Hotel

These courses, such as the WSQ Promote Tourism course and the SkillsFuture Digital at Workplace course, allowed Ms Tan to strengthen her knowledge and skills in her area of work.

Not only that, Ms Tan was also offered the opportunity to volunteer as an SG Clean Ambassador for six months under the National Environmental Agency — an opportunity she relished because she wanted to be able to give back to the community during this difficult time.

The experience ended up being an enriching one. While deployed at Maxwell Food Centre, she was able to chat with the various stallholders and learn more about the area.

This then improved her knowledge to offer food recommendations and information about the area to the hotel customers, Ms Tan said, since Maxwell Food Centre is a popular food destination for many tourists.

In the more immediate term, the experience made her more familiar with the various safe management rules that have been put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

With this, she could offer advice and tips to her colleagues at Shangri-La on how to adhere to the various regulations.

“I’m really grateful for all of the help from the Government,” she said.

“Last year turned out to be a very fulfilling and very interesting year. I learned a lot of new things.”

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