AS A primary school canteen stall helper, Ms Phoon Yoke Meng was working eight-hour days and earning a daily wage of just $45 with no benefits.
So when Ms Phoon, 49, saw a Wang Cafe advertisement seeking staff and offering benefits such as medical leave, bonuses and hospitalisation insurance, she jumped at the opportunity.
In a tight labour market, where the services sector has among the highest level of vacancies, companies such as Wang Cafe, an islandwide cafe chain, have to do all they can to attract and retain staff.
Ms Phoon, a mother of two, said in Mandarin: 'I joined Wang Cafe because of the benefits they were offering, in particular the monthly CPF contributions, medical and dental benefits and annual leave.' She does general duties.
She earns a starting pay of about $1,200 a month and can expect to get a small bonus in December. In addition, her medical and dental bills will be covered under the company's insurance schemes.
The tight labour market, compounded by recent government measures to reduce numbers of foreign workers, have made business expansion harder for businesses like restaurant chain operator Han's.
Of about a dozen firms interviewed by The Straits Times, four, including Wang Cafe, Home- Fix, Han's and Banquet Holdings, are offering improved staff benefits.
Wang Cafe, bought by NTUC Foodfare in February, introduced the benefits on Feb 1. Since the perks were added, the percentage of local staff at Wang Cafe has increased by 20 per cent, said NTUC Foodfare's director of human resource and training, Ms Alice Yeoh.
As benefits grow, the higher costs will be offset by a rise in staff retention, which will prevent productivity loss in training of new staff, she said.
Banquet Holdings, which runs a food court chain, said it has started offering more flexible working arrangements. For example, workers can enjoy more days off in a month, in exchange for longer hours each day.
Banquet's executive director Max Lim said: 'We found that increasing salary is not the solution as there is a limit to what we can pay.'
Home-Fix, which sells do-it-yourself products, has also introduced new employment benefits. A series of perks brought in this month include a lift in annual leave, up from seven days to eight per year, and a total of 10 days after a year on the job.
Staff will be able to use the $150 previously restricted to outpatient treatment, for expenses such as family outings, textbooks and medical bills.
Home-Fix's human resource manager Clarisse Ng said: 'The economy has picked up and there is an increased demand for workers... Because of a limited pool of labour in the market, employers have to compete with each other,' she said.
NTUC deputy secretary-general Ong Ye Kung said benefits are a good way for firms to cope with the battle for staff. He told The Straits Times: 'In a labour crunch like this, a company can only hold on to workers and hire new ones by improving its terms. It means either higher wages, or better employment benefits, or both.'
Staff, of course, are the winners.
For Ms Choon Mee You, 52, the bonus paid in December is a boon. 'The end-of-year bonus is good as it helps me tide over the Chinese New Year period as well as helps pay for my son's studies as that's when school starts,' she said in Mandarin.