Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Manpower

New group to study issues that freelance workers face

MOM taking concerns seriously as pool of such workers is set to grow in the future economy: Lim Swee Say

A survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on around 200,000 or so freelancers in Singapore found that their top worry is whether they can find enough work. PHOTO: ST FILE

Greater protection for freelance workers is on the cards, with the setting up of a tripartite group to study the issues they often face.

The move follows the findings of a pioneering survey the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) did on the 200,000 or so freelancers in Singapore.Their No. 1 worry is whether they can find enough work, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say when he announced the group of government officials, union leaders and business officials.

Another is the lack of income security, which is made worse when they fall ill or go for training.

Other concerns are whether their clients will pay them on time and in full, and if they can save enough to buy a home and for retirement.

Mr Lim said his ministry is taking the concerns seriously because the pool of freelancers will "grow in our future economy, in tandem with the growth of the platform economy".

Primary freelancers, however, have remained at around 8 to 10 per cent of employed residents over the past decade. These are people who freelance as their main job.

Most freelancers, or 81 per cent, choose to work this way. Many are in traditional jobs such as taxi drivers, real estate agents, insurance agents and private tutors. There are over 10,000 in each of these.

More than 20,000 freelancers are in the gig economy - those who use online platforms to link up with and offer services to people.

It includes about 10,500 private- hire car drivers with Uber and Grab and about 10,000 other gig freelancers such as graphic designers, photographers and deliverymen.

At least seven MPs want the Government to give more help to freelancers and gig workers.

Several suggested ways to help them get better medical benefits.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling- Yew Tee GRC) suggested letting employees pay to continue their coverage after leaving an employer.

Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) called for more risk-pooling initiatives to offer protection if they are injured at work. Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested a marketplace for pooled medical coverage for gig workers. She also called for rules on contributions to the Central Provident Fund by both the clients and freelancers.

Mr Lim also gave details of other measures to improve employment protection for workers.

From April 1, workers can tap the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) for mediation on salary-related disputes, and head to the Employment Claims Tribunal if mediation is unsuccessful.

Local workers can approach TADM at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong, while work pass holders can go to the MOM Services Centre in Bendemeer.

From April 1, TADM will also give local low-wage workers financial aid from its Short-Term Relief Fund, financed by MOM. It is for those who cannot recover unpaid salaries because their bosses do not have money or have closed shop. The help will be means-tested and likely for workers in the bottom 20 per cent.

TADM will work with other organisations to link people to services such as legal clinics, employment help or social and emotional support, and the scope of its services will be broadened progressively.

The ministry is also launching new tripartite standards for employers to follow voluntarily.

These could include standards for flexible work arrangements or sector-specific work arrangements. Companies that agree to adopt them will be listed online on the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices website and Jobs Bank.

The first series of tripartite standards will be launched by the end of the year, said Mr Lim.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline New group to study issues that freelance workers face. Subscribe