Forum: Unions helping gig worker members thrive in digital economy

We refer to the article, "Different gigs, different digital skills" (Aug 18).

The National Trades Union Congress' Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit has been working over the past few years to digitally upskill our gig workforce and would like to share our experience.

The article's writers proposed a three-tiered approach (baseline, intermediate and sector-specific skills) for self-employed persons to work more effectively or transit to less precarious work.

Our unit and our affiliated associations that represent various groups of self-employed persons agree with this approach. Amid the new norm, business landscapes and demands have shifted and self-employed persons are pressured to embrace a new digital operating environment.

Our unit and our associations have initiated discussions with stakeholders, including relevant government ministries and agencies, since 2019 on strengthening frameworks and safeguards to support self-employed persons' livelihoods in a digital economy.

Discussions entail creating a recovery road map for our unit and the associations to consolidate necessary resources and training to help members thrive in the transition.

The National Taxi Association, together with taxi operators, NTUC LearningHub and NTUC's e2i (Employment and Employability Institute), has mobilised more than 10,000 taxi drivers to attend the SkillsFuture for the Digital Workplace course to familiarise themselves with mobile apps and basic digital communication tools to handle the increased popularity of ride-hailing.

When Covid-19 hit, we supported our workers by training them quickly in digital-related processes such as filling digital forms and conducting classes virtually.

NTUC's e2i also administered the Self-Employed Training Support Scheme to offset the opportunity cost of training.

The National Instructors and Coaches Association also helped alleviate members' financial strain by arranging bulk purchases of digital hardware and software.

For sector-specific skills, the Visual, Audio, Creative Content Professionals Association and collaborators are studying how digital skills can apply in creative freelancers' work.

We propose three steps to initiate the three-tiered approach proposed by the writers.

First, review the Government's training support quantum to mitigate the financial impact on self-employed persons during training.

Second, extend the Government's support, including grants, to micro-businesses.

Finally, ask sector agencies and buyers to adopt value-based procurement from self-employed persons, so that investments in new competencies are sustainable for self-employed persons while creating value for buyers.

These steps, together with the ongoing initiatives by our unit and our associations, including the push for fair contracting and effective dispute resolution, will let self-employed persons achieve sustainable careers.

Jean See
NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit

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