The rise of the gig economy has made it easier for individuals to do freelance work as a primary source of income. But they may, at times, be faced with uncertainty as these jobs generally do not come with benefits such as medical coverage or social security contributions.
Find out what is being done to help freelancers in this interview with Mr Ang Hin Kee, Assistant Director General of NTUC. Included are excerpts from a parliamentary speech made by Mr Ang, who is also a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC.
By now, we are familiar with how ride-sharing apps have radically transformed the taxi industry. These new technologies changed the way we commute as more commuters turn to such apps to book their taxi rides. This also means that there is a demand for such a service which translates to more job opportunities for freelance drivers.
However, the Grab-Uber merger announcement followed by Uber’s exit caught many by surprise. Freelance drivers were not sure how their livelihoods would be affected. Many had signed on to these ride-hailing platforms to make a living and some even changed jobs, bought a car or leased it long-term to enter this market.
There are many other app-based platforms operating in Singapore, ranging from food/retail delivery to talent matching services, that are creating a demand for freelance jobs.
But how will we know if freelancers embarking on the gig economy or relying on such platforms will not be left to deal with another Uber exit?
Hence, I do see the need to strengthen these four areas to provide more support for freelancers and those who are considering this career option:
Firstly, more can be done to educate our job seekers and school leavers on what to look out for if they choose to embark on freelancing as a career option.
Just recently in April, the NTUC’s Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit met with some 100 Education and Career Guidance Counsellors from the Ministry of Education. The aim is to update them on the developments within the freelance communities. This enables them to better advise students who might be considering freelance work.
Similar efforts are also in place with career counsellors for adult job seekers on what sustainable freelancing is like, the possibilities as well as the risks involved.
Many freelancer communities and platform operators have also volunteered to share their experiences and industry tips at these engagement talks.
Secondly, we should look at the immediate needs of freelancers, especially in the area of healthcare. One way is to embrace the recommendations made by the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-Employed Persons.
In fact, some platform operators like Grab, have started to make co-contributions to the MediSave account of the freelancers on their platform. This is an encouraging move and parallels existing efforts by taxi operators to help cabbies with their MediSave, supporting them for various healthcare needs.
Check out the 9 things you can use your MediSave for:
The next step is to provide our freelancers with access to insurance products that protect them from long-term illness or injury.
The loss of income is particularly troubling for self- employed individuals especially when they are unable to work for an extended period. Insurers have been approached by the Tripartite Workgroup to design such a product and I hope it will be available soon.
Other than that, the CPF Self-Employed Scheme also helps these individuals take care of their healthcare expenses.
Thirdly, set up a government-recognised dispute resolution framework that allows freelancers to work through payment disputes with companies.
The Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) have already put in place such a system for media freelancers, sports coaches and instructors as well as taxi drivers.
More government agencies should set up such a framework so that freelancers under the purview of their respective sectors can be supported. Perhaps, companies applying for government funding should also be required to offer medical coverage and the dispute management framework for their freelancer employees.
Lastly, caveat emptor (or buyers beware) is a great reminder for buyers to be mindful when a deal looks too good to be true. This principle applies to freelancers too.
With technological disruptions and the speed that it is transforming industries, it is important that regulators move quickly to ensure a support system is in place for the freelancers.
It is equally important that freelancers exercise caution towards platforms who do not want to be subjected to or commit to tripartite standards, advisories and guidelines designed to help safeguard their welfare.
Source: MOM Labour Force Survey
It is true that we want to remain as a nation of opportunities, where we can welcome new ideas to take root and explore new career options. Similarly, our workers, including freelancers, must be prepared to adapt to evolving market conditions and embrace technology. Our businesses should also demonstrate a willingness to be in sync with our workers’ commitment.