SINGAPORE: A tripartite standard which aims to encourage fair and progressive workplaces that better support media freelancers was officially launched on Wednesday (Nov 29).
Announcing the launch of the tripartite standard on the procurement of services from media freelancers, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Chee Hong Tat said that from Apr 1, 2018, companies must adopt the standard in order to qualify for media grants from the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and funding for Public Service Broadcast content.
National broadcaster Mediacorp will also adopt the standard and apply the same criteria in their commissioning process, he added.
The standard sets out industry best practices in four key areas: Written contracts, timely payment, dispute resolution and insurance. The aim, said IMDA in a media release giving more details on the standard, is to encourage fair and progressive workplaces that better support media freelancers.
“Talent drives the media industry and it’s very important for us that we make sure the environment is conducive for talent to grow,” said Angeline Poh, IMDA’s assistant chief executive for industry development.
“The freelancers actually make up a very significant part of our media workforce, and we’ve received feedback from employers and businesses, as well as the freelancers themselves, asking for some predictability and standards in terms of the rules of engagement, when it comes to procuring services from media freelancers.”
IMDA said that in 2015, the media sector workforce had 83,600 employees, and contributed S$9.8 billion in nominal value-added to the economy. It added that based on MCI’s Study on Freelancers in the Infocomm Media and Design Sectors in 2015, freelancers augment the media industry workforce by 50 per cent.
According to the standard, companies are to provide media freelancers with a written contract clearly stating terms such as the agreed deliverables, ownership of intellectual property and payment milestones. This is to ensure that both parties have a common understanding of the service to be rendered, and terms of payment, said IMDA.
Companies are also expected to adhere to the payment milestones outlined in the agreed terms.
In the area of dispute resolution, mediation should be taken as the first course of action. In support of this, IMDA provides subsidies for mediation services in partnership with the Singapore Mediation Centre for eligible media companies and media freelancers.
The standard also outlines that companies should offer workplace protection for media freelancers through insurance for production equipment, commercial general liability and work-related accidents.
Plans to develop the standard were first announced in March, during MCI’s Committee of Supply debate.
Currently, 11 companies and associations have adopted the standard. They include regional broadcasters like HBO (Asia) and the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents. The Association of Independent Producers (Singapore) has pledged to adopt the standard by April 2018.
“We’ll be one of the early adopters of the standard, and it’s important because we work very closely with IMDA and other industry partners to develop these standards to protect industry freelancers,” said Debra Soon, Mediacorp’s chief customer officer. “After all, we are one of the largest industry players, and it’s important for us to send a signal out to the rest of the industry.”
The standard is jointly developed by IMDA with the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress, Singapore National Employers Federation and supported by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
It is Singapore’s first industry-specific tripartite standard that addresses the concerns of media freelancers, said IMDA.
Complaints or feedback on companies that do not adhere to the standard will be handled by TAFEP. If it is found that companies no longer meet the specifications of the standard, they may be delisted.
These delisted companies will no longer be eligible for IMDA media funding.
LATE PAYMENT, LACK OF WRITTEN CONTRACTS SOME ISSUES FACED BY FREELANCERS
Media freelancers Channel NewsAsia spoke to largely welcomed the framework, noting that some issues they face currently include clients not paying them on time – if at all – and a lack of written contracts to help them understand their rights.
“The standard is good for setting out the industry best practices, especially because it gives legal help with contractual frameworks, and lays out the industry wage and scope of work,” said freelance photographer Joseph Nair, who has been in the industry for about ten years. “This is something I think newer entrants can benefit from, because we’re not usually very good at the legal stuff.”
“Most companies, especially the big ones, have legal departments, and the legal terms of the contract usually favour the companies, rather than the freelancers,” he added. “But because we need the work, we don’t have a choice and we have to sign it.”
“When I first started out, I had instances when payments were delayed,” added freelance director He Shu Ming. “I wished back then, there was something that could help me understand my rights.”
Mr He, who has about eight to ten years in the industry, also pointed out that it is common in other countries for freelancers to sign a deal memo which protects both parties before they begin a project. But this is not necessarily done in Singapore.
“In the industry, jobs can come in quite last minute, or changes to shoot days can happen quite often, so many times it’s just a verbal agreement between the employee or employer,” added freelance lighting assistant Zachary Tang, who has about a year of experience in the industry. “So as a freelancer you have to know and state all your terms very clearly, even if they’re deemed industry standards.”
This, he said, includes things like late payment charges, overtime charges or even transport claims. “And even then, there are companies that don’t abide by them, and there’s nothing you can do except boycott them.”
But questions were raised about how companies which adopt this standard can be monitored.
While Mr Tang noted that the standard “sounds good”, he has mixed feelings about them.
"I think it’s very hard to regulate or monitor, especially for jobs that only take one or two days, and it’ll mean more time and paperwork required to set up contracts, which people will have to get used to,” he said. “I can imagine people bypassing these standards quite easily, especially for smaller-scale jobs.”
Mr Nair added that payment and insurance coverage is more likely to become an issue with smaller clients, or those who are overseas.
“The ones who take up the government grants are the ones who will usually pay us on time,” he said. “It’s already kind of built in.”
“So it would be good if we could have some sort of framework that covers all clients, not just the ones who weren’t that big a problem to begin with.”