Tighten laws to protect freelancers

I applaud NTUC's Budget proposal to give freelancers more protection under the labour laws and support in saving for their retirement ("NTUC wants workers assessed on skills, rather than just grades"; Jan 18).

Freelancers, such as private-hire car drivers, are paid only when they work, and are responsible for their own healthcare. They also have to rely on their own resources to upgrade their skills and maintain their own corporate network to market their services.

But they give consumers greater choice, and companies that hire them are able to control manpower costs.

Contract workers, outsourced workers and freelancers are the most vulnerable people in the labour force. It is not uncommon to hear of companies taking advantage of the weak bargaining power of such workers by not paying them on time or not paying them at all.

With slow economic growth, many small companies may turn to freelance contractors instead of hiring full-time staff, and some do so to avoid paying employee benefits.

The Employment Act should be amended to give freelancers the same protection as full-time employees. Moreover, complicated regulations governing institutions that were set up when such freelance and contract jobs were rare should be changed to make it easier for such workers to manage their health and life savings.

Perhaps, to prepare students for the growing demand economy, schools should also teach them to be more self-reliant.

Francis Cheng