The recently unveiled Budget showcases the Singapore government at its technocratic best. Without a doubt a more business friendly Budget than that of previous years, yet some media sector industries are still feeling left out, even as they gear up to take advantage of new initiatives like the Wage Credit Scheme and the PIC Bonus.
Unlike the property development, retail or service sectors, media SME owners say they aren’t particularly affected by the squeeze in foreign worker numbers. “Most of our staffing needs require a higher and more specialized skill set, so we usually hire locally,” said one owner of a local post production company.
For others, the introduction of the Wage Credit Scheme has allowed them to fast track the hiring of new staff, as well as augment the pay of existing workers, especially with the median wage of media sector workers falling under the $4000 cap at which Government support is cutoff.
Of help too is the Productivity and Innovation Credit Bonus scheme. According to one digital cinema service provider, the company plans to automate many of its processes through bespoke written software, the bulk of the cost to be borne by the PIC Bonus.
In general, owners and SME stakeholders don’t foresee any weakening in hiring practices due to the Budget, even as they bemoan the lack of industry specific initiatives.
“Most of the new restrictions impact the property and retail sector, and that’s why most of the Budget is targeted towards the same industries,” according to a local film distributor. “At the same time, we have our own unique problems that are not being addressed.”
And this is true. Protectionist actions by cinema chains, for example. This has been largely unspoken, but you’ll find that chains do not want to distribute English language films from independent companies because they have their own distribution wings that want this business.
The distributor continued by noting that protectionist practices from bigger distributors in Singapore cut out access to the marketplace and made it difficult for SMEs to compete on a level playing field, whilst accepting that it was a structural problem for the industry requiring legislation rather than a budgetary approach.
Freelancers, on the other hand, complain that they continue to be left out of most of the budgetary benefits. With major initiatives like the Wage Credit Scheme, PIC Bonus, Corporate Tax Rebate and Commercial COE tweaks benefiting users in orthodox corporate employment, the sizable population of media freelancers say they find it difficult to access anything but the most general of benefits, like Medisave topups and Income tax rebates.
“The majority of us earn between 2,500 and 4,000 a month, but its not always stable. It would be nice to see some kind of government guaranteed CPF contribution normalized over the year,” said a local filmmaker. “Ultimately, however, we have to see a Freelancers Bill of Rights go through parliament, as well as a specialized union or affiliated framework to protect our rights.”