Labour movement holds first fair for freelancers

Freelancing has long been seen as a frontier town fraught with uncertainty, and its practitioners as lone rangers who rely on word of mouth and the luck of the draw to survive.

But shifts in the employment landscape challenge this perspective, and the labour movement is now throwing its weight behind the rising tide of the freelance economy.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday held its first fair for freelancers at the Red Dot Design Museum. More than 400 freelancers attended to network and find out more about platforms and services they might need.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Ang Hin Kee estimated that there are 200,000 freelancers in Singapore, a growing number that requires an ecosystem of support.

"The traditional mode of employment has started to change," said Mr Ang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

"We want to see working people be able to pick different choices of career - whether as employee or freelancer - and have these lead to the same outcome."

This means ensuring freelancers, too, have fair employment terms and that their needs, such as medical insurance, skills training and retirement planning, are met, he said.

Yesterday's fair featured dialogues with veteran freelancers and booths by 10 "aggregators", or platforms which freelancers can use to find job opportunities.

These ranged from ServisHero, a mobile app through which freelancers such as handymen and cleaners can bid for jobs, to IoTalents, an online platform for IT professionals.

To ensure fair and timely payment, IoTalents uses an escrow system which holds the amount paid by the buyer in trust and releases it in instalments to the freelancer as tasks are completed.

IoTalents co-founder Eric Sng said he observed a market shift last year towards more freelancer hiring. He estimated that their user base has increased by 30 per cent every month for the past six months.

Also at the fair were 13 businesses which provide services that freelancers might need, such as bookkeeping or working space.

Online legal platform Dragon Law helps freelancers create their own legal documents, such as consultancy agreements and intellectual property protection. As the system is automated, it costs less than hiring a lawyer to do the same.

Dragon Law marketing manager Shermin Oh said: "These are things people don't tend to think about. When you need to chase for payment, it's often too late."

Freelancers, such as accountant and business consultant Amerline Lee, 37, welcomed the fair as they felt little had been done for freelancers before this.

She said: "Right now, I'm comfortable with where I am, but it's unstable. I want to see whether there are other freelancers like me here. Maybe we could collaborate to take on bigger accounts."

Freelance programmer and woodworker Anura Dias, 24, said it would be helpful to have platforms to find job opportunities, instead of relying on word of mouth. "Being a freelancer can be tough," he said. "But I don't want to wake up every morning and go to work for someone else. I want to be my own boss."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Labour movement holds first fair for freelancers'. Print Edition | Subscribe