Harsh reality for SMEs: Shape up or ship out

Harsh reality for SMEs: Shape up or ship out

SINGAPORE - Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may have to relook their processes, consolidate, merge, relocate or at worst, wind down.

That is the reality summed up by the president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme), Mr Chan Chong Beng, in reaction to the Budget statement delivered on Monday.

He said to reporters at a seminar on fair employment practices: "That is the reality. Every businessman must find (his) own way to survive."

He cited the Government's tightening of foreign labour, among other announcements, which might be "a bitter pill to swallow" for some firms.

That is especially so as SMEs are facing difficulties coping with the current labour crunch, said Mr Chan.

However, he added that companies which are doing well will "benefit a lot" from some of the new measures that will be rolled out.

He also commented on the $3.6-billion Wage Credit Scheme, in which the Government will co-fund 40 per cent of wage increases for Singaporean employees earning up to a gross monthly wage of $4,000 over the next three years.

Based on feedback from SMEs, Mr Chan said that reactions to the scheme are mixed. He said: "Those who are in the process of giving increments to their workers will find it of help.

"But those who are struggling with their businesses will (receive) even more pressure, because the workers will ask (their) employers for a wage increase."

One key way for SMEs to retain workers is through fair employment practices, he said.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices - Singapore's fair-employment watchdog - released results from a recent survey which showed that even as many SMEs have workplace diversity, three out of five have yet to appreciate the importance of adopting fair employment practices.

These include showing no discrimination on the basis of age, gender or race.

More than 500 SMEs were involved in the survey.

Some diversity and inclusion practices among employers include offering equal training and development opportunities for employees.

During the seminar held at the Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre, 13 Asme executive- council members signed the Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices.

Today, SMEs form the bulk of enterprises in Singapore, employing seven out of 10 workers and contributing over 50 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, said Mr Chan.

"The need for SMEs to step up their game and to become recognised as a fair employer will definitely give them an edge in today's difficult and challenging business environment," he said.

tsjwoo@sph.com.sg

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