Freelancers may get help with payment disputes, insurance

A special insurance scheme has been recommended to provide freelancers with income if they are injured and cannot work for long periods.
A special insurance scheme has been recommended to provide freelancers with income if they are injured and cannot work for long periods. PHOTO: ST FILE

Govt accepts plans to better support them, including new Medisave contribution method

Uncertainties are part of their job, but freelancers will be equipped to face this occupational hazard with more protection.

A special insurance scheme has been recommended to provide them with income if they are injured and cannot work for long periods.

They may even be offered standard written contracts, help with mediation and a system that ensures that their Medisave accounts stay healthy.

The Government has accepted these, among other proposals, made by a workgroup that studied how to better support the self-employed.

The recommendations, which also include helping freelancer associations to develop competency frameworks for each occupation, are being made public today, and were accepted by the Government on Tuesday.

The workgroup was formed last March to look into common challenges faced by freelancers, who have grown in prominence with the expansion of the gig economy.

A survey by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) found that there were about 200,100 freelancers among Singaporeans and permanent residents here in 2016. The bulk of them, or 80 per cent, were doing such work by choice, and the share of self-employed people has remained steady at 8 per cent to 10 per cent of the total resident workforce over the last decade.

MOM deputy secretary Augustin Lee, who chairs the workgroup, said: "What we aim to do is to provide more support for self-employed persons and help make their career choice a more sustainable one."

Payment-related disputes were a common challenge for freelancers, said the workgroup. This stemmed from "the ad-hoc and piecemeal nature of self-employed work", and was an issue highlighted by freelancers such as tour guides, music instructors and videographers.

To address this, the workgroup recommended an avenue for companies to publicly commit to using standard written contracts with freelancers, and proposed that more sector agencies help mediate disputes. The Land Transport Authority and Infocomm Media Development Authority, for example, already provide support for mediation.

The workgroup also suggested extending the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management's voluntary mediation services to freelancers.

Another challenge faced by freelancers was loss of income if they were to fall ill. To protect their cashflow, the group recommended offering a standalone insurance product that pays a daily cash benefit if someone is hospitalised or on outpatient medical leave for a certain number of days.

The group also noted that one in four freelancers falls behind on Medisave contributions, despite the risk of penalties. They are required to contribute to their Medisave accounts for the previous year's work.

It wants companies that buy services to pay a portion of the fees directly into the freelancers' Medisave accounts. In proposing this, it took its cue from Chile, which is making it mandatory from next year for a portion of freelancers' fees to be earmarked as pension contributions.

Responding to the report, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said in a letter that she accepted the workgroup's recommendations.

She said she will address this during the debate on her ministry's budget next month, and will outline measures to put the proposals into practice and the expected timelines.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Freelancers may get help with payment disputes, insurance'. Print Edition | Subscribe