Budget debate

More protection for freelancers sought

If Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) has his way, freelancers such as Uber drivers would soon get Central Provident Fund contributions from those who hire them.

This could be determined by looking at data from businesses that hire such part-timers, like Uber or Deliveroo, and figuring out minimum CPF contributions for each task.

Underscoring its importance, he said: "If the CPF system is undermined by the gig economy, there will be knock-on effects on home ownership, healthcare and retirement adequacy."

Dr Tan was among four MPs who called for more protection for freelancers - who number about 180,000, and counting - in Parliament yesterday.

He suggested that "gig employers" pool their resources to give otherwise unprotected freelancers insurance coverage, which those with full-time jobs enjoy.

He also urged the Government to enhance protection measures for this group, as the gig economy shifts the responsibility and risk of a job from an employer to the worker.

Those desperate for jobs have less negotiating power, he noted.

He recounted how a delivery driver in his constituency was downgraded from a full-time job to that of a contractor providing ad hoc services: "Same work, different contract. Less benefits, more vulnerable."

Meanwhile, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said government bodies which often work with freelancers should rope in other stakeholders to provide a safety net for such employees.

He later told The Straits Times that these could include Singapore Tourism Board-approved tour guides and coaches working with schools and Sport Singapore.

He said they could take a leaf out of the Land Transport Authority's book. It worked with the National Taxi Association and taxi operators to set up a mediation centre in 2014 to handle disputes, which freelancers and the self-employed can tap.

"As we gear up for the future economy, our employment practices need to be robust and inclusive... so as to ensure that no one is left behind or short-changed," he said.

Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said: "Eventually, this rising number of contract staff should enjoy mandatory employment benefits, such as annual leave and medical benefits."

One way to achieve this is for the Government to implement a new benefits system, said Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC).

Citing a suggestion by American economist Laura Tyson, he said these benefits should be attached to individuals, not employers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'More protection for freelancers sought'. Print Edition | Subscribe