SINGAPORE - When netball coach Justin Teh started working full time as a freelance sports coach in schools 11 years ago, he was surprised at how some schools treat their sports coaches.
"The contracts were lopsided and schools can cancel training sessions at very short notice," said the 45-year-old. "One of the coaches told me a teacher had cancelled training so that she could go shopping.
"This affects the incomes of sports coaches," he said. "I tried to persuade schools to change, but there was little I could do as an individual," he added.
He approached the then-Singapore Sports Council in 2012 for help to set up an association for freelance sports coaches. "They said 'good idea, but do it on your own'," Mr Teh recalled.
He finally got a break in 2015 when he approached the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for help. The NTUC gave administrative and legal help to set up the Sports Coaches Association of Singapore. It even gave seed funding of $2,000, Mr Teh said.
The association was registered in 2016 and he is its president. It has about 300 members.
On Saturday (May 13), Mr Teh will be among 78 individuals and 37 organisations receiving May Day awards from the NTUC for their contributions to the labour movement.
His "Working People's Advocate Award" for representing the interest of freelance sports coaches is a new award category NTUC launched this year.
It recognises those who have partnered the NTUC to improve the welfare of workers. They do not have to be union leaders, unionised companies or government officials.
It is also part of a broader NTUC drive to offer its activities and services to non-union members as well, so that it looks after the interests and welfare of as many workers as possible.
Mr Teh said some of his association's members were "sceptical" about the link with NTUC. "They said we are part of the Government," he added with a laugh.
But, he said: "The NTUC does not interfere with our governance, we can make decisions without approval from NTUC."
The link with NTUC is bearing fruit, he added.
The NTUC arranged several meetings between the association, the Ministry of Education and Sport Singapore.
The ministry has since agreed to review the contracts schools award to freelance sports coaches, including paying them monthly instead of hourly and hiring their services for a minimum number of hours each month.
"This will provide some form of income stability. During the haze a few years ago, the incomes of sports coaches were affected because training sessions were cancelled," he said.
Without NTUC, Mr Teh is convinced there would not have been any meeting. Neither would the authorities have been "so trusting, so open" with the association.
There are more than 2,000 registered sports coaches in Singapore and they earn between $40 and $100 an hour, Mr Teh said. "It depends on the sport. Tennis and golf coaches earn more than $100 an hour."
The May Day awards will be given at a ceremony in Orchid Country Club on Saturday (May 13).
At the ceremony, the NTUC will also announce the recipient of the Medal of Honour, its highest award. The previous recipients were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in 2014.