Freelancers seek protection of their rights

April 6, 20169:36 am647 views
Freelancers seek protection of their rights
People cross a street in Singapore's central business district. (Photo: Sutrisno Foo)

Freelancers are calling for their rights to be protected, as their numbers are expected to grow in the Republic. They are also hoping a central body can be formed that can put a stamp on the quality of their services.

With the Government’s push for companies to provide flexible work arrangements, freelancers will be watching the upcoming Committee of Supply Debate closely to see if more support will be provided.

Among the people who have decided to become a freelancer is Mr Jeremy Chan. He graduated from university in 2014 with a degree in Applied Physics and, like many of his peers, could have found a job as an engineer. However, he chose to pursue his passion.

Now 27 years old, he has been taking up freelance jobs in photography and digital imaging.

While he finds the past two years rewarding, there were some challenges.

He said: “I had to chase a company for payment for about six months, so this caused inconvenience to me because this sum was owed to me for that period of time, whereas I could have spent it on my own personal expenses or to upgrade my own equipment.

“Even if I write a contract for the company to sign, they’ll say that their finance department is still working on it or (there will be) some problems, so they still delay the payments that they owe. It’s hard for me as a freelancer to get a lawyer.”

Mr Chan is not alone in facing such issues. More freelancers are seeking help at NTUC’s U PME Centre to deal with problems like payment delays and non-payment. They are hoping that more can be done to help them.

Said Mr Patrick Tay, chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower: “One of the main prohibitions is that the Trade Unions Act does not allow the trade union to represent freelance workers, but I think we should take a closer look at that.

“Across every part of the world, unions do not represent freelance workers because of this prohibition. However, there are instances, (such as) … in the United States, where they are testing out new pieces of legislation, and discussing them to see whether they can better protect the interests of freelance professionals and workers.

“There are ways that we can explore, to see how we can band them together and then work in partnership with them to advocate and make sure that their rights and privileges, and interests and welfare are looked after.”

He added: “(For) the Labour Movement, I think one key thing is working in the industry, and working with the associations of freelancers, or if not, partner with these freelancers so that we can better look after their interests and rights, through various ways. For example, like lobbying or being a voice for them in various platforms, to make sure that their interests and welfare are looked after.”


As of June 2015, there were almost 170,000 freelance workers, which is about 8 per cent of employed residents. Mr Leon Lim, the co-founder of a job portal for freelancers and part-timers, said more are getting on the bandwagon. When the FreelanceZone portal was started in 2009, fewer than 100 freelancers were using it. Now, there are 32,000.

He feels that for the industry to grow, hirers of freelancers need to be protected too.

“When we started off in 2009, we hired freelancers to build our web and everything, we simply just paid them some deposits without any written contract,” said Mr Lim. “So a couple of them actually took our money, did maybe one-tenth of the work and ran away. So we realised that we need a proper contract. It would be good if this contract can also be governed by a certain body.”

The body would also help hirers who are worried about the quality of work.

Mr Tay said: “(For) certain trades, the freelance professionals (could) actually get together to form an association and … also have some form of accreditation in terms of the quality of their service, the quality of their training and their professionalism.

“So that’s one way. If we can gather sufficient numbers, and in certain trades, be able to accommodate this accreditation, it’ll be good to raise the standards and also provide some reassurance to buyers of their services that they’re getting professionals at a fair deal.”

“They come in with a quality stamp,” added Mr Lim. “Just like in terms of the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration), they have their own FDA chop. In terms of other bodies, they have their own governing arm, but for the freelance industry, there isn’t one yet in Singapore.”

Mr Lim hopes that such measures will help to grow the industry and raise the standards of freelancers.

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