Budget 2021: Labour MP urges stronger laws to protect gig workers

Last December, NTUC formed a new group to represent delivery riders. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Gig workers should be accorded stronger legal protection to address the "lopsided bargaining powers" of platform companies that have left the likes of food delivery riders with the shorter end of the stick, said labour MP Desmond Choo.

The assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress noted that these workers are not covered under the Employment Act and Industrial Relations Act as they are not considered employees.

"Yet, most of these workers are lowly skilled and wholly dependent upon the platform companies for their livelihood. The lopsided bargaining powers also means that companies can unilaterally change the terms of their service and incentive structures," he said.

"Moreover, as the workers are classified as independent contractors, they lack the ability to collectively bargain and negotiate wages or change working conditions with companies."

Last December, NTUC formed a new group to represent delivery riders under the National Delivery Champions Association.

"But their hands might be tied by legal restrictions on collective representation for service or employment terms," said Mr Choo (Tampines GRC).

To level the playing field between gig workers and platform companies, Mr Choo urged the Government to consider allowing NTUC to represent these workers, or provide them with "some level of statutory protection" under the Employment Act.

He also noted that platform companies are not incentivised to train or upskill gig workers and ensure their social security.

To combat these issues, the Government should consider subsidising or penalising platform companies into providing social protections for these workers, said Mr Choo.

Cost-sharing schemes between the Government and these platforms can also be considered to upskill gig workers and improve their productivity and employability, he added.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested that Singapore heed the recent judgment by the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that Uber drivers should be considered workers - not independent contractors - who are entitled to protections over their pay and work conditions.

Mr Choo also gave suggestions on supporting young Singaporeans who "now find themselves on the wrong side of the growth curve".

Subsidies and loans should be provided to young Singaporeans to pursue a second diploma or degree so that they can pivot to growing sectors, he said.

Consider giving government incentives to host companies of SGUnited Traineeships so that they convert trainees to full-time hires, he added.

Mr Choo also mooted appointing youth ambassadors to support the mental well-being of their peers, who may be stressed by the ongoing job search amid the current economic climate. NTUC will support such initiatives, he said.

Financial planning and career preparation courses in schools can also be reviewed, to better prepare the younger generation to adapt to new economic challenges when they graduate, he added.

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