Why It Matters

A leg-up for freelancers

The increased focus by the Government on the growing pool of freelancers is a welcome move.

On Monday, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced that a group comprising representatives from the Government, unions and employers is to be formed to study the issues these free agents face and look for solutions.

Singapore now has about 200,000 freelancers. Their numbers are set to swell because technological and economic changes have made it easier to find short-term work or one-off assignments through gig platforms, whether for driving, designing, plumbing or tutoring. The swift pace of economic changes has also made it less likely for a worker to stay in an industry or hold a job for the long term.

Freelancers currently face an unenviable situation. They do not get regular Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions from an employer.

They are typically not covered by group medical insurance. And when there is a dispute with clients, many do not know where to seek help.

The labour movement has stepped up efforts to safeguard their welfare. It has a department devoted to looking after their needs. Specifically, it helped private-hire vehicle drivers form an association to represent the sector.

The Manpower Ministry, too, has stepped in, conducting a survey last year that uncovered the major concerns of freelancers. These include the struggle to find enough work, lack of income security, and dealing with rogue clients.

It is time to address their worries because freelancers are here to stay as part of the Singapore workforce. MPs gave ideas in Parliament this week on ways to mitigate their problems and improve their welfare. These include giving freelancers and gig workers access to pooled medical coverage, creating a special SkillsFuture track for them, and setting out CPF rules for clients and freelancers.

These are good suggestions. Hopefully, the new tripartite group looking into their welfare will flesh these out - and signal to freelancers they are valued workers in the new and future economy of Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2017, with the headline 'A leg-up for freelancers'. Print Edition | Subscribe