SINGAPORE: The sudden exit of ride-hailing service Uber from Singapore caught many by surprise, and the entire episode left a "bitter aftertaste", said Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC Ang Hin Kee on Tuesday (May 15).
Speaking in Parliament during the debate on the President’s Address, Mr Ang, who is also an executive adviser of the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, proposed four areas where support for freelancers can be strengthened.
Mr Ang pointed out that disruptive technologies will come and go, and Singapore can expect this trend to continue. Ride-sharing apps, he said, radically transformed the taxi industry and expanded job opportunities for freelance drivers.
But he said that with Uber’s sudden exit, drivers had no one to turn to, as both Uber and Lion City Rentals offices were closed, and the senior management at Uber Singapore were uncontactable.
“The whole episode left a bitter aftertaste,” he said. "Perhaps, disruptive technology brings along with it disruptive management."
He noted that he had spoken recently to the President of the Sharing Economy Association Singapore, who had assured him that the association's members desire to be responsible corporate entities to freelancers and consumers.
But he questioned how freelancers embarking on the gig economy would not be left to deal with another "Uber disappearing act”.
STRENGTHENING SUPPORT FOR FREELANCERS IN FOUR AREAS
For one, Mr Ang said that more can be done to educate job seekers and school leavers on what to look out for should they make freelancing a career option.
Next, he noted that the immediate needs of freelancers should be looked after, particularly in healthcare. He pointed out that some platform operators like Grab have started to make contributions to the Medisave accounts of the freelancers on their platform.
“This is an encouraging move and parallels existing efforts by taxi operators to help cabbies with their Medisave," he said.
The next step, he said, would be to give freelancers access to insurance products that protect them in the event of a long-term illness or injury. This is because the loss of income is particularly troubling for self-employed people if they are not able to work for an extended period.
Third, he said that more government agencies should set up dispute resolution frameworks so that freelancers in their respective sectors can be better supported. For example, the Infocomm Media Development Authority, Ministry of Education and the Land Transport Authority already have a system for media freelancers, sports coaches and instructors, as well as taxi drivers.
“Such dispute resolution systems allow freelancers to work through payment disputes with the production houses, schools or taxi operators,” he said.
Finally, Mr Ang said that the "buyers beware” principle also applies to freelancers.
“It is important that regulators move quickly to ensure a support system is in place for our freelancers,” he said. “It is equally important that freelancers exercise caution towards platforms who do not want to be subject to or commit to tripartite standards, advisories and guidelines designed to do right by our workers.”
In concluding his speech, Mr Ang expressed disappointment that Uber had let them down. But he stressed that Singapore remains an economy that welcomes new ideas, allows test-beds for innovation, and involves its local workforce in these “exciting ventures”.
“Despite this Uber episode, we want to tell those with the best ideas and technologies to come to our shores,” he said. “We are prepared to share risks, and we are a city of innovation, of new adventure.”
“However, an abdication of responsibility is not what we signed up for and should not be allowed to take root here - neither for our freelancers, nor for our workers.”