Friday 17 August 2012

Nightspots worry about new rules on foreign staff

They say takings will be hit if they have to cut hiring of entertainers
By Melissa Kok, The Straits Times, 16 Aug 2012

NIGHTCLUB operators are singing the blues over new rules that seek to cut by nearly half the number of foreign entertainers they can hire. Many worry they will be forced to downsize or close shop.

Those hardest hit by the upcoming changes are the bosses of medium- to large-sized dance clubs and KTV lounges, who are highly dependent on foreign entertainers to generate revenue.

These nightclub operators told The Straits Times they estimate that their takings will be down by up to 45 per cent.

Worried that they will not be able to cover their monthly rental costs - which can run between $20,000 and $40,000 for a 2,000 to 5,000 sq ft venue - bosses said that they will be forced to downsize when the new quota is enforced in October.

They are hoping the Manpower Ministry (MOM) will grant exemptions and delay enforcing the new rules, to give them time to tweak their business operations.

The ministry informed operators last week that they can only hire up to eight performing artists, down from the current limit of 15. They also have to hire at least one Singaporean worker before they can hire foreign entertainers. This is to ensure that they continue hiring locals for service jobs such as cashiers and waiters, jobs not permitted to be filled by performing artistes.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a MOM spokesman said the ministry will consider "the feedback received... to ease the transition for affected companies in the implementation of the upcoming measures".

The new cap, she added, "was derived on the basis that most public entertainment licensed outlets currently hired less than eight foreign performing artistes".

On Monday, more than 60 nightclub operators showed up for a MOM briefing on the new rules at the Subordinate Courts. Nearly all of them bemoaned the impending changes.

The ministry suggested they hire local artistes or foreigners on the S-pass or employment pass, which is usually valid for two years, to cope with the changes.

But bosses said such passes are difficult to obtain and take a longer time to be approved. They added that it is also tough to hire Singaporeans to do the job.

Madam Alice Phua, 56, who has been running a 3,200 sq ft KTV lounge for six years and currently employs 15 Chinese nationals as singers and dancers, said: "Cutting the quota from 15 to eight is 45 per cent. That is like a 45 per cent cut in earnings. If I have fewer singers, how can they sing the whole night? Singaporean girls won't want to work in this line. You tell me if you think they want to work such late hours."

MOM said the changes were aimed at regulating "the increasing dependance on foreign manpower". Over the past years, 36 entertainment outlets have been found to have breached the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Industry insiders said there have been cases where foreigners are brought in as performing artistes but moonlight as prostitutes or end up drinking with clients, which is illegal.

St James Holdings chief executive Dennis Foo, whose company runs 16 nightclubs and bars and hires more than 100 performers, both local and foreign, suggested nightspots be assessed differently rather than be lumped together. He said: "That way, more focus and enforcement will be put on the unscrupulous ones and, at the same time, allow more leeway for legitimate operators."

About the performing artiste pass

THE Work Permit (Performing Artiste) scheme was introduced in February 2008 for foreigners working in nightspots in Singapore for a short period.

Valid for up to six months, it is issued to those who perform at any licensed bar, discotheque, lounge, nightclub, pub, hotel, private club or restaurant. It is issued by the Ministry of Manpower, and is non-renewable.

Foreigners have to wait one year from the date of the permit's expiry before they are allowed to reapply.

This permit was one of two passes rolled out in 2008 to replace the Professional Visit Pass issued by the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.

The other is the Miscellaneous Work Pass, for foreign journalists or accompanying crew not supported or sponsored by government agencies here.

This 60-day pass also covers those who want to hold talks here, including religious workers

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