New tripartite workgroup to protect interest of freelancers

New tripartite workgroup to protect interest of freelancers

A tripartite workgroup will be formed to study and come up with "workable solutions" to protect the well-being of freelancers in Singapore, says Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

An Uber driver. (File photo: Sherlyn Goh)

SINGAPORE: As the gig economy looks set to grow in Singapore, a tripartite workgroup will be formed to study the concerns of freelancers and see how they can be better protected.

This was announced by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament on Monday (Mar 6) during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate.

Members of Parliament (MPs) on both sides of the House - including Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ang Hin Kee, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Alex Yam and West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har - had raised concerns aboutwhether freelancers are adequately covered under existing labour laws and the possibility of them having inadequate savings for medical and retirement needs.

A survey by MOM last year showed freelancers were most concerned about the lack of income security arising from work injuries, attending training or skill upgrading courses, as well as the ability to seek sufficient clients and collect timely payments.

In response, Mr Lim said the Government is taking these concerns "seriously". "We will form a tripartite workgroup to study these issues and address the concerns of freelancers, and come up with workable solutions for the well-being of the freelancing workforce in our future economy," he said.

According to the labour force survey, the overall percentage of primary freelancers - those who do freelancing as their main job - in Singapore has remained stable within the range of 8 per cent to 10 per cent in the past 10 years.

Mr Lim said there were about 167,000 primary freelancers in 2016 and with the addition of secondary freelancers - those that freelance part-time alongside other jobs - the number adds up to about 200,000. Secondary freelancers include students, housewives or retirees who take on side jobs for additional income.

Mr Lim also shared that most freelancers remain in traditional industries such as taxi driving and real estate, while those who participate in the gig economy remain a minority.

Among this group of gig freelancers, about 10,500 of them work for private-hire car services such as Uber and Grab, whose emergence has transformed how services are delivered in the traditional sector. Another 10,000 gig freelancers work in the professional services, creative services, media and communications as well as delivery services.

The group that the Government is most concerned about is the estimated 32,700 people who are doing primary freelancing not by choice. “Under the Adapt and Grow (scheme), we hope to reach out to as many of them as possible and help them to move into full-time employment,” Mr Lim told Parliament.

Mr Lim expects the gig economy to keep growing, facilitated by technology. He pointed out that the rise of online platforms and apps not only help businesses serve customers more flexibly by matching them with "on-demand" workers, but also enable individuals to market their skills or earn income on the side.

"There is potential upside; there is potential downside too. So our challenge is to maximise the upside and minimise the downside," Mr Lim added.

“The first survey is a good starting point for us to gain better insights into the freelancer landscape in Singapore. We will continue to monitor the development and together with our tripartite partners, we will find practical solutions to address the issues faced by freelancers.”

Source: CNA/sk