TL;DR – NTUC isn’t just a supermarket, it’s a friend in need.
It was another typical day at work where I got off work late.
However, I noticed something different as I headed to the taxi stand.
There was a long stretch of taxis waiting at the taxi stand – a sight that I hardly see in my three years of working in the Central Business District (CBD). Never in my life, I’ve seen a taxi queue this long with no passenger waiting in the taxi queue during peak hours. Most of the time I’d have trouble getting a cab and had to succumb to the crazy surge pricing on Grab.
“Hello Uncle,” I greet the taxi uncle as I board the taxi. As we set off to my destination, I noticed more and more taxis in queue coming into sight as we were leaving the CBD.
“How’s business these days, Uncle?” I ask awkwardly, since striking a conversation with a stranger isn’t my forte.
“Very bad ah. This virus outbreak… I think after they close all the bars and the nightlife venue, confirm will get worse,” he says, referencing the closure announcement made by the authorities on March 24.
“But bo bian lah, what to do? So many confirmed cases these days”.
“How about your other friends who are also driving taxi? Also very bad?”, I ask.
“Very bad… Now people mostly work from home, imagine one whole day you only pick up a few passengers. Still got to pay for taxi rental and petrol”.
“See how lah, the Government announcing something soon mah. We see how lor”.
“But this problem is worldwide problem lah, Singapore already considered very good already, still safe here. You see the Western countries, their number of cases, so scary!”, he added quickly, as though he’s comforting me when it should be the other way around.
My ride back home from the office usually takes only about 15 minutes at most, but for some reason, my ride that day felt longer than ever.
With a heavy heart, I alighted the taxi. But not before asking the taxi uncle to take care of himself and stay safe.
I felt horrible and it’s depressing. Seeing how the taxi uncle tries to remain optimistic despite the situation he’s in makes me feel even worse.
Besides the taxi drivers, surely there are a lot more Singaporeans out there whose jobs are affected by this damn virus, no? Especially the freelancers in the gig economy. Their sudden loss of income bound to get them into financial difficulties – then what’s going to happen to them and their family?
I thought: “This supplementary budget better not disappoint, or else……………..”
The Resilience Budget
On 26 March 2020, I found myself tuning into the supplementary budget speech delivered by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and I kept my ears peeled very very very closely for what’s going to be announced.
Aside from the $77 million Point to Point Support Package which was announced in February to help taxi and private-hire drivers tide through this uncertain period, I was heartened to know that additional support will be given to this group of Singaporeans whose livelihood are affected due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme
Under this scheme, which is jointly developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), self-employed workers – including taxi drivers, private hire car drivers and real estate agents – can receive a monthly cash payout of $1,000 for a total of nine months as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.
Enhanced Self-Employed Persons Training Support Scheme
On top of the income relief scheme, it has been announced that the training allowance for the training support scheme will be increased to $10 per hour to encourage individuals to attend training to upgrade their work skills and improve their employability.
This training allowance – previously $7.50 per hour – will be given to freelancers and self-employed persons when they attend courses under the SkillsFuture Series, as well as selected sector-specific training programmes.
Enhanced Workfare Special Payment
Self-employed individuals who are on the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme will also be entitled to a cash payout of $3,000 each under the Resilience Budget.
To qualify for the scheme, citizens must be 35 and older and earn a gross monthly income of not more than $2,300, among other criteria.
NTUC stepping up with more help for affected taxi and private-hire car drivers
To help point-to-point drivers whose incomes have been badly affected by the virus outbreak, a pop-up care centre has been launched at Downtown East by the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and National Taxi Association (NTA).
According to NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, the care centre – which includes a job fair backed by NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) – will provide affected drivers with options to boost their earnings or make a job switch.
Drivers can also approach the pop-up care centre should they require other forms of immediate assistance.
This pop-up care centre will run indefinitely and reportedly, plans are being developed to set up more such care centres to cater to other freelancers and self-employed persons to extend assistance and care to them whilst providing them a dignified way to continue to earn a wage.
I doubt the taxi uncle will be reading this, but I hope the support and help rendered by the Government and NTUC will tide him at least through this difficult period.
Even though we’re now encouraged to stay at home as much as possible, I will try to allocate more budget for cabs moving forward should I need to get from place to place.
Hang in there, uncle! This too shall pass 🙂 #SGUnited