SINGAPORE: Plying the streets for customers looking for a private hire ride may seem like a choice career for those who value autonomy, but there are drawbacks, such as irregular earnings and loss of income when the driver is ill and unable to work.
For these private hire drivers and other self-employed people or freelancers - who number about 200,000 in Singapore - their concerns are being addressed under recommendations made by a tripartite workgroup.
The recommendations, which were released in a report on Wednesday (Feb 21), include the adoption of a new Medisave contribution model and insurance coverage for these freelancers.
PROTECTION FROM LOSS OF INCOME
Following discussions with about 200 industry partners, the workgroup, which was set up in March last year, found that chief among freelancers' concerns is the loss of income while recovering from injury or illness.
While some freelancers were found to have financial protection against accidents and major medical expenses, there was a gap when it comes to the short-term loss of income while they are recovering.
“Many have shared that they may encounter risk at the workplace, whether it's due to a fall, or equipment that may have injured them. As a result, they may not have income over the next few days of rest, or due to a serious infection, they could be out for the next few days,” said National Trades Union Congress assistant director-general Ang Hin Kee, a member of the tripartite workgroup.
“When they went out to source for insurance to cover for loss of income, many found that because of either lack of resource pool or non-available standardised product, they could not insure themselves against that kind of risk,” Mr Ang added.
So, the workgroup has recommended that tripartite partners work with the insurance industry to develop a product which pays a daily cash benefit for hospital stays of between one and three days or prolonged outpatient medical leave of between one and two weeks.
The workgroup has also recommended that the government promotes the adoption of insurance for those in higher-risk occupations through licensing authorities or its role as a service buyer.
For example, licensing authorities such as Land Transport Authority can make it a requirement that freelance drivers have sufficient insurance coverage before approving their licence to work.
The government as a service buyer can also mandate service providers such as sports coaches to be insured as a condition for engaging their services.
This, the workgroup said, ensures that self-employed workers are not competing with each other on the basis of their appetite for uninsured risks.
Higher-risk occupations like those in the outdoor learning industry might be susceptible to such hazards, said Lye Yen Kai, president of Outdoor Learning and Adventure Education Association.
“Freelancers face a challenge having to spend their own money to get specialised insurance products, which can be expensive. Freelancers in our industry, which is small and highly competitive, could be better paid. As such, freelancers are reluctant to fork out money to protect themselves adequately,” said Mr Lye.
Injuries such as sprains and strains from carrying heavy loads, sunburn and dehydration from being outdoors are frequent.
HELPING SELF-EMPLOYED WORKERS SAVE FOR HEALTHCARE, RETIREMENT
While self-employed workers are currently required to contribute to their Medisave account annually, one in four have not been able to keep up with their obligation, the workgroup found.
To that end, the workgroup has recommended the adoption of a “contribute-as-you earn” model where a Medisave contribution is required as and when a service fee is earned.
Intermediaries and corporate service-buyers, excluding household service-buyers, are required to deduct and pass on the Medisave contribution to the freelancer's Medisave account when they make payment for the service provided.
One such intermediary is Caregiver Asia, which is a platform that matches caregivers with service buyers. It lists over 6,000 caregivers in its database, from occupational therapists to confinement nannies.
Currently, service buyers pay to Caregiver Asia when they engage a caregiver. Caregivers are paid after they have delivered the service.
"We have also been advocating to our freelancers to be responsible in contributing to their CPF/Medisave accounts and to be mindful of their tax liabilities. We will definitely be keen to work with the CPF Board, if possible, to seamlessly connect with their system so as to make it easier for freelancers to contribute to their CPF/Medisave accounts directly from our platform," said Yeo Wan Ling, CEO of Caregiver Asia.
As there are no existing systems used by intermediaries and corporate service-buyers to fulfil this requirement, the workgroup has suggested that the government studies how this can be implemented.
It has also recommended that the government looks at how such a model can work for matching intermediaries not directly involved in the service fee payment to freelancers. For example, taxi fares are paid directly to the driver without going through the taxi operators.
Mr Ang said that such intermediaries can play a bigger role apart from providing a matching service.
“Some of the intermediaries have said that they're happy to do co-contribution or even to help pay for the insurance for the self-employed persons. It's probably an advantage on their part to be able to say, come to my platform and you can buy safely or come to my platform where you can offer your services with such protections in place,” said Mr Ang.
To help minimise disputes, the workgroup has recommended developing a voluntary Tripartite Standard to encourage the use of contracts when engaging freelancers.
Similar to other standards such as those for term contract employees, the new Standard would require written contracts that cover key items such as payment schedule, amount of payment, parties’ obligations and how terms can be varied and dispute resolution.
The workgroup has also recommended mediation to help freelancers and businesses resolve disputes.
Mr Ang said that there are already sector agencies related to the vocation or industry of self-employed people and businesses that provide such mediation platforms, such as the Council of Estate Agencies.
For those without sector agencies to support mediation, the workgroup has recommended extending the voluntary mediation services of the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management to them.
To help freelancers keep their skills current, enhance professionalism and make self-employment a sustainable career, the workgroup has recommended that tripartite partners support freelance associations in developing competency frameworks.
This could be an opportunity to look at where the skill gaps are and to address them, said Sheldon Gooi, president of Singapore Talent, Artistes and Resources (STAR) Association. STAR has initiated discussions to introduce certification or accreditation for some of the occupations it represents like stage riggers.
“For stage rigging, as of today, there is no certification and licensing. Anyone can walk in and say they can do it and it’s important because it deals with safety of audience,” said Mr Gooi.
“We’ve engaged with some of the more experienced old-timers to see where the gaps are and put together some kind of course to address it” he added.
In a letter to the workgroup, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said the Government has accepted the recommendations in-principle.
“I intend to provide a fuller response during the Committee of Supply parliamentary debates next month. This will include an outline of measures to implement the recommendations and the expected timelines,” she added.