Why It Matters

Freelancers may need more help

Earlier this week, a tripartite workgroup released seven recommendations to support freelancers, including a new Medisave contribution model, a special income protection insurance product and more avenues to resolve disputes.

The Government has accepted these proposals, and the Manpower Ministry (MOM) will set out its plans to implement them during the debate on its budget next month.

It is encouraging that there are now concrete suggestions to support self-employed people, who made up 8 per cent to 10 per cent of the resident workforce over the past decade. Their numbers have grown, from 167,900 in 2006 to 179,700 in 2016, and could swell further with the expansion of gig platforms. Thesemake it easier for workers to find buyers for services such as car ridesand caregiving.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said during the debate on the MOM budget last year that the pool of freelancers will "grow in our future economy, in tandem with the growth of the platform economy".

The seven proposals are a good starting point, but the work should not stop here. One issue the workgroup said warrants a further look is retirement adequacy. As there are no compulsory contributions to CPF retirement savings by either freelancers or their service buyers, it is up to individuals to set aside a nest egg.

Some freelancers note that their incomes have stagnated over the years, as raising their fees may make them less competitive. It can thus be hard to keep up with the cost of living.

In addition, though some freelance jobs such as private-hire driving have flourished due to disruption in the economy, these gigs are not immune from the negative effects of disruption either. For example, the looming adoption of autonomous vehicles could impact taxi and private-hire drivers.

Freelancers may need further support down the road for them to continue to contribute to a vibrant economy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Freelancers may need more help'. Print Edition | Subscribe