PARLIAMENT: Debate on ministries' budgets: Manpower

$36m move to help freelancers upgrade

A new $36 million training support scheme will be launched in the next three months to help freelancers upgrade their skills, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

It will give all freelancers a training allowance of $7.50 an hour when they attend courses under the SkillsFuture Series, as well as selected sector-specific training programmes, she added.

"The immediate concern of all (freelancers) is the significant drop in earnings due to the Covid-19 outbreak ... Not only will this scheme supplement their income, it can help them become more future-ready."

There is no cap on how much training freelancers can sign up for, said Mrs Teo, who was responding to concerns raised by MPs, such as Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), during the debate on her ministry's budget. The scheme will be administered by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which has established outreach channels for freelancers, such as the NTUC's Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit and the National Instructors and Coaches Association. It will provide details on how to apply soon.

In another move to help freelancers, Mrs Teo said those who get on board the pilot Contribute As You Earn (Caye) scheme will have their contributions matched dollar for dollar by the Government this year, capped at $600.

She also said, in her response to Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC), that in January alone, when Caye was launched, about 400 freelancers made contributions. All will receive matched Medisave contributions from the Government.

She added that about 3,000 freelancers working with government agencies each year are expected to make Caye contributions. Under this scheme, freelancers working directly for the Government and public agencies will have part of their fees channelled to their Medisave accounts for healthcare needs.

Mrs Teo told the House that in the light of the coronavirus situation, more freelancers are expected to qualify for the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme, which encourages lower-income workers to stay employed and strengthen their retirement nest egg. From this January, the scheme's qualifying income cap and maximum annual payouts have both gone up, she noted.

They will also receive an additional 20 per cent of their WIS payment for work done last year, with at least $100 to be given in cash.

National Instructors and Coaches Association president Adrian Chiang said the training support scheme is a welcome move. He noted co-curricular activity coaches like him have seen a 30 to 40 per cent drop in their working hours and pay, owing to cancellations amid the outbreak. "The $7.50 allowance is a meaningful token that can help us make use of the downtime to take some relevant courses," said Mr Chiang, 41, a band conductor.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2020, with the headline '$36m move to help freelancers upgrade'. Print Edition | Subscribe