NTUC sets aside $4m to bring total training fund supporting freelancers to $40m

NTUC Secretary General Ng Chee Meng interacts with freelancers in a cafe along Havelock Road on March 25, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has set aside $4 million to help freelancers who are union members cope with the lull in business due to the coronavirus outbreak.

It will enable these members to claim higher training allowances to defray the opportunity cost of going for courses, NTUC said on Wednesday (March 25).

This is in addition to the $36 million Self-Employed Person (SEP) Training Support Scheme announced by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo earlier this month, under which all Singaporean and permanent resident freelancers will receive a training allowance of $7.50 per hour when they undergo eligible courses.

Application for the scheme, which is administered by NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), begins on April 1.

There is no cap on the number of courses which freelancers can attend, and the allowance will be given out after the programmes are completed.

NTUC members who joined the union before March 1, 2020 will receive $8.50 per hour in training allowance, while those who joined after March 1 will get $8 per hour.

Eligible courses for the scheme include all SkillsFuture Series programmes as well as sector-specific courses in areas such as digital skills, security and first aid.

The sector-specific training programmes are curated in partnership between unions and associations, SkillsFuture Singapore, and NTUC's agencies, so as to widen the selection of courses available to freelancers in line with their areas of work.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng encouraged freelancers to use the lull period, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, to upgrade their skills and broaden their skillsets, as well as to look at other areas of work they may not have considered before.

"We do have vacancies...in the healthcare sector, maybe around 5,000 jobs, and in the security sector, maybe up to 10,000 jobs," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr Ng noted that many freelancers are working in areas in which they are passionate about, but urged them to consider other opportunities in this difficult period and their passion areas "as an augmentation of income in these unusual times."

Pointing out that freelancers could receive more than $300 in training allowance for attending a five-day course, Mr Ng added that this would go a little way in alleviating their cash concerns, especially given the challenging situation.

NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit acting director Jean See said that freelancers had expressed concern about taking time off and going for training as it meant missing out on job opportunities.

The training fund was intended to help defray opportunity costs and extend some financial relief to freelancers, she added.

Mr Mohamad Azan Salleh, 51, has been a limousine driver for more than 25 years.

He said job opportunities had dried up in recent months due to the coronavirus outbreak, especially since the bulk of his business comprised of corporate clients such as entertainers who were in Singapore for concerts.

Mr Azan, who is president of the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said he was encouraging drivers in his association to sign up for tourism-related and security courses complementary to their driving roles.

"Hopefully when the business for drivers pick up again, this training will come in useful. For now, they can go for courses and drive private-hire vehicles part-time, to cover rental costs and (tide over) this period," he said.


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