SINGAPORE - The lack of basic job protection for delivery workers who work for online platforms is a growing problem, and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is studying how to give these workers a more secure future, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 29).
He added that he was "especially concerned" about this group of lower-wage workers, who have worked hard as food deliveries shot through the roof during the Covid-19 pandemic, and yet earn modest incomes.
Gig-economy companies such as Grab, foodpanda and Deliveroo determine which jobs are assigned to these workers, and also manage their performance.
The workers can be penalised for delivering their orders too slowly, and can even be suspended over some infractions.
Yet, because they do not have employment contracts, they have no right to the basic protection that employees enjoy, such as workplace injury compensation, union representation and employer Central Provident Fund contributions.
Noting this as he spoke about better support for lower-wage workers at the National Day Rally, PM Lee said: "Delivery workers are, for all intents and purposes, just like employees."
He added that delivery workers are often under constant stress for reasons beyond their control. For instance, delivery riders may fall below their daily targets because of bad weather, motorcycle breakdowns and scary dogs.
Around the world, gig-economy companies have faced growing criticism and legal challenges over their treatment of their workers, who are considered contractors and thus often not afforded basic entitlements like paid annual and medical leave.
Some large gig platforms have, in recent years, started to provide a certain degree of protection, or benefits such as access to skills training courses.
For instance, Grab and Deliveroo offer delivery workers here free accident insurance.
Past reports said delivery workers in Singapore can earn $6.50 to $7.50 per delivery.
The plight of such workers has become a growing issue in Singapore, as more and more people join the gig economy. They are not covered under the Employment Act here, unlike regular employees.
According to the most recent figures from MOM, there were 228,200 resident workers engaged in "own account work" - such as freelancers or those who are self-employed - in 2020, up from 211,000 in 2019.
PM Lee said on Sunday that besides delivery workers, there were also lower-wage workers in other jobs who have an employee-like relationship with platforms.
He added that they will also find it harder to afford housing, healthcare and eventually, retirement.
"More people are taking up this type of work, so this problem is growing," he said.
"MOM is studying it, and will be doing consultations. We must address the issues to give these workers more secure futures."
Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, in a Facebook post referring to PM Lee’s remarks, said his ministry will strengthen protections for self-employed persons who work for online platforms, and an advisory committee has been set up to look into ensuring a more balanced relationship between platforms and its workers.
“Platform workers are much like employees, yet they lack the protections that employees enjoy. This is an important concern for us, as more people take up such work,” he wrote.
Labour MP Yeo Wan Ling said in a post-Rally Facebook post it was a significant first step that MOM would be looking into the issues affecting gig economy workers.
She also said the labour movement is exploring ways to better support such workers.
National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng also said in a Facebook post that the labour movement has been actively championing the needs of such workers, and called on platform companies to work with NTUC to improve work conditions, safety as well as medical and injury coverage for them.