Parliament: Guidelines on hiring freelancers launched to help reduce disputes

Second Minister For Manpower Josephine Teo

Payment disputes are a major concern for the self-employed, but it is impractical to mandate written contracts for all freelancers and gig workers, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

A set of guidelines on best practices for engaging freelance services has been launched instead, to help reduce such disputes.

Buyers who adopt the new Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons would need to discuss and agree with the freelancer the terms of engagement, such as the range of services to be delivered, project timelines and milestones, and payment schedules.

"Over time, the standard will help shape contracting norms and entrench best practices," Mrs Teo said during the debate on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) budget.

The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management will also extend voluntary mediation services to all self-employed workers who have payment disputes with businesses.

The standard was one of several recommendations made by a tripartite workgroup looking into the concerns of the self-employed, which the Government is taking up.

Those who make their income primarily through self-employment now make up 8.4 per cent of the resident workforce.

The tripartite workgroup also recommended that a prolonged medical leave (PML) insurance product be developed to mitigate a self-employed person's loss of income during prolonged injury or illness.

Today, some self-employed workers buy additional riders on top of their private insurance plans to provide for this, but there is a lack of an affordable standalone PML product, she said. NTUC Income is keen to develop such a product, Mrs Teo said, adding that the aim is to have a viable plan and for a PML insurance product to be available next year.

The Government will also encourage the widespread adoption of insurance in some higher-risk occupations, starting with sports coaches and instructors, as well as taxi and private-hire car drivers.

Together, these two groups make up 30 per cent of all self-employed people here, Mrs Teo said.

The Ministry of Education has agreed in-principle to contract only with self-employed coaches and instructors who have such PML insurance coverage, she said.

These freelancers may then price the cost of PML insurance coverage into their bids for work or projects.

MOM and the Land Transport Authority will study how to ensure that active taxi and private hire-car drivers also have PML insurance coverage, she added.

Mrs Teo also noted that about one in four self-employed people fails to keep up with his Medisave contributions. To help this group save enough for their healthcare and retirement needs, the Government is studying how to implement a "contribute-as-you-earn" (CAYE) model, under which the service buyer hiring the freelancer has to make a contribution to the person's Medisave account, as and when the service fee is paid.

This is similar to how employers make a contribution to their workers' Central Provident Fund accounts alongside their salaries every month, Mrs Teo said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline Guidelines on hiring freelancers launched to help reduce disputes. Subscribe