Majority of those who rely on platform work aged 50 and older: Koh Poh Koon

Platform workers must contribute about 8 per cent to 10.5 per cent of their income to their MediSave accounts. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Most workers who relied on online platforms for income last year were aged 50 and older, though delivery workers tended to be younger given the physical nature of their work, with the majority aged below 40.

About four in five of these workers - mostly delivery workers, cabbies and private-hire car drivers - view such work as their preferred job, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (April 5).

More than half of the 1,200 submissions that the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers has received from platform workers also indicate support for mandatory Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, with housing and then retirement the most commonly cited reasons.

The advisory committee, which was set up to review the protection given to platform workers and which Dr Koh advises, has, to date, reached out to more than 20,000 platform workers as part of its public consultation.

The committee, formed after the National Day Rally last year, is focused on three areas - improving housing and retirement adequacy; providing financial protection in the event of work injury; and strengthening representation for these workers.

However, when asked by MPs for more details about the profile of platform workers, such as the the proportion of former offenders engaged in such work, Dr Koh said there is still a lack of good data.

"We will try to do some surveys on this but I think it is very hard for us to get very accurate data," he said in response to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok).

"The landscape is very diverse... Whatever intervention we decide on, we need to have the flexibility to cater to the evolving needs of this group of workers," he added.

Similarly, Dr Koh said he did not have data on how many platform workers actually make contributions to their CPF accounts on their own accord, when asked by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh.

As self-employed people, platform workers must contribute about 8 per cent to 10.5 per cent of their income to their MediSave accounts, but those who engage in such work casually may not do so.

Dr Koh said the current assessment is that about 45 per cent of platform workers make some contribution to their MediSave, but the authorities are getting clearer data from the CPF Board and the platform companies.

Dr Koh noted that there have been other surveys on platform work published recently, including one jointly commissioned by Grab, Deliveroo and foodpanda.

In that survey, 43 per cent of the 4,200 delivery riders polled said they contribute to their CPF accounts, but 61 per cent said they did not want contributions to be deducted from their gig work earnings.

Dr Koh said some of the surveys did not capture the management controls and challenges that the platform workers face. These workers' concern about the impact of mandatory CPF contributions on their take-home earnings also suggests that they are not as well-paid as some surveys have tried to portray, he added.

Dr Koh said the advisory committee is also mindful that platform companies will face increasing business costs if they have to start making mandatory CPF contributions for platform workers.

But they are no worse off than any other company employing workers in a similar sector, such as in logistics and transport, and platform companies already make CPF contributions for their management executives and administrative staff, he added.

He said the authorities will develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure compliance should platform companies be required to make CPF contributions.

"The committee aims to provide practicable and sustainable recommendations, and is considering an appropriate phase-in period to allow the industry to adjust."

Most of these self-employed individuals with outstanding MediSave liabilities have not met their Basic Healthcare Sum. PHOTO: ST FILE

On the longer-term career prospects of platform workers, Dr Koh said there are measures already in place to support this, such as the career-matching services offered by Workforce Singapore and the National Trades Union Congress.

Last year, 8 per cent of those who relied on platform work as their main job switched to work primarily as an employee - a slight increase from the 5 per cent to 6 per cent in recent years.

Said Dr Koh: "I don't have the full data, but my sense is that it is a very disparate group. Some could be younger, some older, some could be more educated. Some, maybe because of their physical condition, realise that they need to do something that is less physically demanding.

"We need many different things to meet the different needs of different groups of people, and it is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution nor a fixed archetype."

The advisory committee is expected to deliver its recommendations by the second half of this year.

In a separate question, Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked about MediSave contributions that are in arrears.

In response, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that about a quarter of self-employed persons here - who are responsible for making their own contributions to the national medical savings scheme after declaring their income for the year - are unable to meet these obligations in time.

Of these, about half of them have less than $3,000 in outstanding liabilities.

Most of these self-employed individuals with outstanding MediSave liabilities have not met their Basic Healthcare Sum, which is the estimated savings required for basic subsidised healthcare needs in one's old age.

Dr Tan emphasised that self-employed persons have up to two years to make the required MediSave contributions to qualify for Government schemes such as Workfare, which supports older low-wage Singaporeans who continue working.

Less than 5 per cent of appeals for Workfare were from self-employed persons requesting to waive their MediSave contribution requirements, he added.

Dr Tan noted that the CPF Board has been helping people who face difficulties in meeting MediSave obligations - by extending their Giro arrangements to reduce monthly instalments, considering appeals on a case-by-case basis and exercising flexibility based on appellants' needs.

Support is also available through schemes such as the Covid-19 Recovery Grant and at social service offices islandwide.

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