Budget debate: More time for self-employed to get matched MediSave top-ups

The Ministry of Manpower will also look into how to find a better balance in the arrangements between gig workers and the platforms that deploy their services. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Self-employed people who deferred their MediSave contributions last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic will still be able to receive matched MediSave contributions from the Government until Dec 31 this year.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Wednesday (March 3) that 4,000 self-employed people made contributions under the Contribute-As-You-Earn scheme last year and received close to $1 million in matched MediSave contributions from the Government.

The qualifying period for the Contribute-As-You-Earn incentive was originally only for last year, to encourage people to join the scheme in its first year of implementation.

It aims to help people build up their savings by having a portion of each service payment credited to their MediSave accounts by service buyers, instead of them making lump sum contributions.

It currently applies to freelancers working directly for government agencies, and Mrs Teo said her ministry will study if the scheme should be extended to those serving the private sector.

Last year, about 95 per cent of self-employed people remained on the scheme even though they could have opted out, she said.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also look into how to find a better balance in the arrangements between gig workers such as food delivery riders and the platforms that deploy their services, said Mrs Teo. Labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer) and Workers' Party MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) had suggested providing basic employment rights for these workers.

"But this is not straightforward," said Mrs Teo, noting that while Britain's Supreme Court recently ruled that Uber drivers are workers entitled to certain employment rights, in other places such as California, the legislative moves have "swung like a pendulum".

Currently, the self-employed in Singapore can form associations and be affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress. They have also some protection for work injuries, such as free personal accident insurance coverage provided to Grab drivers and Deliveroo riders, said Mrs Teo. But, she acknowledged, coverage for these workers is uneven and collective bargaining is not available to them.

She added that MOM will review the responsibilities of these intermediaries in a "fair yet practical" manner, balancing the usefulness of work opportunities provided by these intermediaries and the need to secure better outcomes for workers.

Flexible work

Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang also said on Wednesday that although more employers are providing flexible work arrangements to their employees, MOM needs to work with tripartite partners in considering longer-term steps.

It will look at the experiences of other jurisdictions such as Britain and Australia, which have introduced laws on flexi-work arrangements, and take into account the interests of both employees and employers, Ms Gan added.

To help companies adopt workplace practices that promote work-life harmony, an industry-led Alliance for Action on Work-Life Harmony was recently formed. "In the long term, this will help companies better attract and retain talent," said Ms Gan.

Responding to calls by Mr Tay and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) to introduce laws against workplace discrimination and harassment, she said that there are already existing laws to raise employment standards, and these are updated regularly.

On workplace harassment laws, Ms Gan said: "We can have more legislation to enforce against bad behaviour at the workplace, but if we take a legal approach to every aspect of employment relations, we will have an adversarial industrial climate."

She added that tripartite guidelines and advisories have "worked well" in advancing both the interests of employers and employees, while maintaining a "positive and constructive" relationship between both groups.

For workplace discrimination, Ms Gan noted that employers are taken to task through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices and the Fair Consideration Framework.

Schemes such as the Jobs Support Scheme and Jobs Growth Incentive also tilt the balance in favour of hiring locals, while job redesign and reskilling have helped to increase the employment rate of seniors in Singapore, she added.

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