When freelance netball coach Justin Teh sprained his back two years ago, he continued to hobble to work.
"If you are injured or sick, you don't get paid, and sometimes you are given a month's notice, or even a week's, before you lose your contracts," said the 47-year-old, a netball coach of about 17 years.
Freelance coaches and instructors such as Mr Teh will soon have help from the National Instructors and Coaches Association (Nica).
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday announced plans to set up Nica to look after the interests of freelancers who teach sports, enrichment and wellness, among others, in schools and communities.
The new organisation aims to help these groups of freelancers with contractual issues with buyers of their services, such as the People's Association, the Ministry of Education and Sport Singapore, as well as work with insurance companies to come up with affordable policies for wage loss due to illness and injury. Also, Nica aims to uplift the standards of its members through master classes and networking platforms.
Membership, at $117 per year, is open to coaches and instructors in industries such as sports and wellness, including part-time and full-time freelancers. NTUC estimates that full-time freelancers number about 5,000.
"The whole intent of what we are doing is to deepen our reach and extend our services to the freelancers in Singapore," NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said on the sidelines of yesterday's announcement at the NTUC Centre. "In the new economy, the freelancers are increasing in number, and we estimate that there are almost 200,000 in Singapore today. So, how do we take better care of them?
LOOKING AFTER FREELANCERS
The whole intent of what we are doing is to deepen our reach and extend our services to the freelancers in Singapore. In the new economy, the freelancers are increasing in number, and we estimate that there are almost 200,000 in Singapore today. So, how do we take better care of them?
NTUC SECRETARY-GENERAL NG CHEE MENG
"NTUC would like to leverage on our strengths, our networks, to work better with government agencies that are the main buyers of these services... so that the freelancers will have a better prospect of earning a good income while they teach our children."
Nica will be the third association for freelancers to be formed, after the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association, and comes after recommendations by a workgroup formed in March last year to study how to better support the self-employed.
"Many of the individual freelancers have come back to us after the Government had accepted these recommendations and asked how we could act on them," said Mr Ang Hin Kee, NTUC assistant director-general and director of the Freelancers and Self-employed Unit.
"The way to act on these recommendations is to come together as a community. Then, you can find a channel in which some of these initiatives can be pushed out. New feedback can also be given so that there is this continuous dialogue and platform to engage the various buyers and government agencies."
Among the issues that freelance band director Adrian Chiang hopes Nica can handle is the renewal of freelancers' contracts with schools.
The 40-year-old, who has been in the industry for 19 years, said freelancers like himself sometimes get as little as one month's notice before they learn their school contracts are not renewed for the coming year.
"Those days of the week where you used to commit to this school will be empty, and it would be difficult to fill at short notice," he said.
Referring to Nica, Mr Teh said: "This new association serves a really huge purpose as it brings together all the freelancers who were previously so fragmented... there was no organisation or united front that looked after our welfare, our contracts and our progress.
"This new representation will give us the ability to speak to buyers (of our services) and also to form alliances with our stakeholders."
Asked if more such associations will be formed, Mr Ng said: "We hope to consolidate on this first step and see where it brings us.
"Besides the drivers' associations, this is the first move to see what we can do for the new economy, and the new development of what is a Singaporean worker."