Care centre for private-hire, taxi drivers affected by coronavirus outbreak launched at Downtown East

NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng at the pop-up care centre for private-hire and taxi drivers. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - A pop-up care centre for private-hire and taxi drivers impacted by the coronavirus outbreak has been launched at Downtown East by the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and National Taxi Association (NTA).

The care centre - that includes a job fair backed by NTUC's e2i - aims to help drivers apply for NTUC's assistance funds, learn more about other forms of immediate assistance and also explore other job options.

Located at Begonia Terrace in Downtown East, the centre will run indefinitely, and offers some 500 vacancies from participating employers like NTUC FairPrice, SBS Transit and SMRT, among others.

"The outbreak of Covid-19 has significantly impacted the livelihoods of drivers in the point-to-point industry. Ridership has plummeted and the earnings of drivers have dropped significantly," said NPHVA and NTA in a joint statement.

Two booklets issued to applicants show open positions for both permanent and temporary jobs.

Permanent jobs include full-time bus captains with SBS Transit and SMRT Buses, taxi and bus drivers with HDT Singapore and postman positions with SingPost.

Temporary jobs, meanwhile, showed open positions at NEA, SingPost and HDT Singapore.

The booklets also show a list of training courses recommended for drivers, including WSQ Adapt To Change and a first aid course.

"NTUC's e2i has been mobilising our networks - working with associations, agencies and unions to match job vacancies with job seekers, including workers affected by Covid-19," said e2i chief executive Gilbert Tan.

"We are curating temporary, contract and permanent positions across sectors as quickly as possible to minimise downtime of workers.

"In this mode of business unusual, we encourage businesses to look into alternative solutions that can enable the redeployment of workers while contributing to business value," he added.

One such alternative solution has been a food delivery trial between SMRT and food and beverage firm Fei Siong.

Under the arrangement, drivers from SMRT Taxis will ferry delivery assistants from Fei Siong around, which, until this point, did not offer food delivery services.

SMRT drivers will be block-booked for three hours either from 11am to 2pm or 5pm to 8pm, during which they will be paid a fixed rate of $20 an hour that is co-paid by Fei Siong and SMRT Taxis.

"Even though driver earnings are being impacted by the Covid-19 situation, we still see pockets of opportunities where our drivers can come in to provide the necessary transport services and be paid for it," said NPHVA and NTA advisor Mr Ang Hin Kee.

The trial will be launched from Fei Siong's outlet in Jurong Point and will be subsequently extended to its other outlets in Singapore. Fei Siong said food prices will not be raised, and delivery charges will be absorbed.

SMRT Taxi driver Vincent Lee, 42, who is participating in the trial, said the additional income - around 30 per cent - has helped alleviate some of the hardships he has faced since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

"For the three hours, it gives us a fixed income, and it helps us offset our running costs," he said, adding that he's happy to have another source of "secured" income.

He usually does about 10 orders during each three-hour block.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Mr Lee said he used to make 17 to 20 trips a day, but now does fewer than 10 trips.

"The fixed income coming in definitely means a lot to individual drivers," Mr Lee said.

Speaking to the media, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said plans were being developed to set up more such care centres to cater for other freelancers like national coaches and instructors, and hoped to have plans ready by next week's Budget debate.

"We have close to 40,000 freelancers that are already with NTUC. But as you know, we have close to about 200,000 SEPs (self-employed persons) and freelancers in Singapore. So there is still a wide space for us in these very unusual times to extend assistance and care to these workers, and importantly, provide a dignified way for them to continue to earn a wage."

Grab private-hire driver Justin Lim is one of many affected drivers already signing up for retraining courses, applying for courses in digital marketing and fundamentals of PDPA.

He used to drive a Toyota Noah for 12 to 13 hours and earn $300, before deducting the $90 daily rental. But now, for the same amount of time, he earns just $200, he said.

The 49-year-old, who is also a trained tour guide, said he hoped the training in digital marketing could help boost his credentials.

"I'm very glad to see the Government come up with these training courses for SEPs," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.