SINGAPORE: Given the growing number of freelancers in certain industries, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has put in place a new survey that will gather more information on the changing freelancing landscape in Singapore.
This was revealed by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 7).
He said that as of last June, there were about 180,000 primary freelancers - those who operated their own business or trade as their main work without employing any paid worker - and that figure accounted for approximately 8 per cent of Singapore’s working residents.
Even though the share of primary freelancers has remained relatively stable at between 8 and 10 per cent over the past decade, Mr Lim noted that the numbers could be changing among certain sectors. For instance, the number of freelancers working for private-hire car services could be seeing an increase amid the popularity of ride-hailing platforms such as Uber and Grab.
The emergence of these “sharing economy” platforms may have also enabled more people to take up freelancing as a secondary source of income, the minister added.
Hence, MOM initiated a new annual survey, starting from last September, that will enable the Government to better understand the profiles of freelancers in Singapore, including whether they take up freelancing as a primary or secondary source of income, as well as the sectors and occupations they are in, Mr Lim said.
In fact, based on initial findings, the main increase in the number of freelancers comes from secondary freelancers, the minister revealed in response to a supplementary question by Member of Parliament (MP) for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad.
Most importantly, information from the new survey will allow the Government to monitor the workforce trends of the “sharing economy” and look into issues that freelancers may face such as retirement adequacy, Mr Lim added.
Disruptive trends have upended the local labour market in recent years, contributing to the growth of the "gig economy", particularly in some sectors such as food delivery and transport.
In light of that, several MPs raised supplementary questions in relation to what the Government is doing to safeguard the interests of freelancers. For one, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Sun Xueling asked whether MOM is looking to increase its education and communication with freelance workers in areas such as financial planning.
Mr Lim replied that MOM and its tripartite partners have and intend to place more focus in helping freelancers strengthen their retirement adequacy. “Over the years, we've always worried about the retirement adequacy of these freelancing workers. Besides contributing to the Medisave account, they do not contribute to the Ordinary Account and the Special Account, so this is an area where we have always been concerned for them in terms of saving for housing and retirement.”
Mr Lim also noted that the median gross income of primary freelancers saw a broad-based increase across most industries between 2014 and 2016. Bucking the overall trend was the real estate services sector which saw a marginal drop of about 1 per cent in income, while the finance and insurance services sectors logged a fairly stagnated median income, he said.
However, the Government remains concerned about the growth of the “gig economy” and decided to roll out a survey to gather in-depth statistics on the changes in the freelancing landscape.
“When you talk about housing needs, medical needs and retirement needs of freelancers, it’s not a new issue … (as) freelancers have been in the market for a long time, but what we are concerned about is changes in the employment landscape; whether this number will grow and how the market dynamics may change overtime,” Mr Lim explained.
He added: “The past performance may not be a necessary indicator of future performance so what we are concerned about is whether in time to come, the growth of this 'gig economy' will actually have a greater impact on more workers.”