The gig economy seems to have caught attention of the labour movement in Singapore, especially with the peak Christmas season demanding food couriers to ply on slick roads even as flash floods affected some parts of the country.
Labour MP Ang Hin Kee speaks up in favour of the so-called “tied freelancers” to push fair work terms for this group in the current year’s budget. These workers, like rest of the workforce should be entitled to workplace protection, medical and retirement coverage, said NTUC’s assistant secretary-general to The New Paper.
These tied freelancers hold jobs that are handled by a group of independent contractors, such as those in private transportation and food delivery. Official figures of these freelancers currently show 170,000 in Singapore, but Mr Ang estimates the pool to be as big as 200,000.
With freelancers not having statutory rights of employees under the Employment Act such as overtime pay and no statutory benefits such as Central Provident Fund contributions from the companies they work for, it is tough on these workers to save enough for retirement. They further do not have recourse in the labour court.
Considering the rapid growth in gig economy and many businesses hiring freelancers for short-term engagements, Boh Wai Fong, Associate Professor at Nanyang Business School and director of NTUC’s Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit told Asia One, this requires understanding of different profiles and different needs of the group. Details beyond number of people in the group are required, before seeking help.
If nothing is done to protect freelancers, businesses could get away with “what could have been a genuine obligation on their part”, added Ang, saying that these black sheep make up the minority.
Separately, NTUC Secretary-General (SG) Chan Chun Sing spoke at a Freelancer Bootcamp last year saying, “Freelancers are currently not protected under the Employment Act. The three main concerns for freelancers are legal and contractual issues, financial planning, and training and upgrading.” He urged freelancers to come together as a group to network and share each other’s concerns and those with the labour movement as well.
In a report about the global gig economy published in October, McKinsey & Co wrote: “Any changes in policy shifts have to be based on evidence, and what is available today is problematic. Governments need to conduct more regular surveys to gain a better understanding of the many types of flexible arrangements that now govern work, with up-to-date categories and criteria.”
Perhaps NTUC could do more to empower freelancers with basic rights and protection, while providing them knowledge on building a retirement nest egg while juggling gigs.
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