Just last week, we published an article about how a survey uncovered the depressing truth that 58% of freelancers in Southeast Asia have experienced not being paid.
One of the key reasons was that they were “not being taken seriously by clients”.
This is despite the fact that the gig economy is on the rise, with more taking up a freelance working arrangement for various reasons.
In fact, there are currently around 223,500 freelancers in Singapore – making up around 8 to 10% of Singapore’s workforce.
According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), they are also “older, more educated, and earn higher incomes”.
In spite of this, many freelancers work without the basic perks that employed individuals are entitled to – namely, medical leave, insurance, and CPF contributions.
However, this is set to change, and freelancers are set to get more support from the Government, announced Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in Parliament on Monday (5 Mar).
Medisave Deductions, Insurance, Support For Disputes
This comes after a proposal by the Tripartite Workgroup (TWG) submitted earlier in February, which called on the Government to boost freelancers’ Medisave savings, provide them insurance to protect them against loss of income from workplace injuries, create a voluntary standard for written contracts, and give them greater support for matters like pay disputes.
These were among seven ideas proposed by the TWG, which did a nine-month study of the challenges faced by freelancers in Singapore.
In response, Minster Teo said in a letter that she “has accepted the recommendations”, and her intention to “provide a fuller response during the Committee of Supply parliamentary debates”.
On Monday, she announced that some of the new benefits include being able to deduct a share of their income for Medisave, getting access to voluntary mediation for payment disputes, and an insurance scheme that stems income loss from prolonged sick leave.
The Government is said to be looking at a “contribute-as-you-earn” Medisave model, which would enable these individuals to make “smaller but more frequent” contributions.
Currently, it is mandatory for freelancers to contribute to their Medisave accounts annually.
However, one in four freelancers have not kept up with this annual payment system, as many aren’t able to put aside enough cash regularly.
However, she added that the Government would still need time “to iron out issues” for the new Medisave model.
Another benefit for freelancers is that they would be able to approach the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) to mediate in payment disputes.
TADM’s service requires a registration fee of up to $60, and it is open to Singapore citizens and permanent residents.
However, it will only mediate disputes between individuals and a registered Singapore business.
Currently, workers can approach the Small Claims Tribunals, but MOM noted that “some are concerned that taking their buyers to court will hurt their work opportunities, particularly if their industry is small”.
Industries with government agencies overseeing their sectors are also encouraged to continue approaching freelancers to help them in mediation matters.
To better protect freelancers from income loss from prolonged sick leave, insurer NTUC Income is also looking into developing an insurance scheme that is set to be rolled out next year.
Minister Teo added that those in higher-risk occupations “should be encouraged to adopt this scheme”.
Currently, there is no such insurance scheme for freelancers, given that it’s difficult to gauge how much coverage each service buyer should provide.
Said Minister Teo:
We will therefore take a practical approach of making the insurance product available for (freelancers) to purchase for their own protection.
Other insurance firms are also welcome to offer a similar scheme.
Lastly, the tripartite partners (the Government, unions and employers) also launched “a tripartite standard on contracting with self-employed persons”.
This looks to set a benchmark that freelancers should encourage service buyers to adopt.
Under the standard, both sides “need to discuss and agree clearly […] on areas such as the nature of services, which includes duration and location of service, and payment schedules”.
All of this will then be laid out in writing.
Minister Teo called this a “good start”, and said that “it will shape contracting norms and entrench best practices over time”.
More To Be Done For The Growing Number Of Freelancers
While it’s great news that self-employed individuals are getting more support from the Government, there actually has been a group that has been quietly supporting freelancers in Singapore.
Called the U FSE Unit (Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit), it was set up by the Labour Movement to serve the rapidly growing group; acting as an intermediary, and helping freelancers secure government assistance like Workfare – which helps them fund up to 95% of course fees!
While freelancers cannot be union members or unionised per se, the U FSE Unit aims to help them benefit from the programmes under the Labour Movement’s umbrella using a “pay by use” (vs. the typical “pay by month” model for employees) basis.
The Unit has also been a strong advocate for workplace insurance, freelancers’ income security, and the benchmarking of good practices for service buyers.
“We hope that the Labour Movement could give freelancers a voice,” shared Mr Ang Hin Kee, Director of the U FSE Unit in an article we published in 2016.
We want these groups of workers to have ownership. We want them to champion their cause, internalise the issues, face their problems and stand behind their solutions.
During the announcement yesterday, it was also mentioned that the Unit is now working with groups (such as self-employed sports coaches) to develop a “training and accreditation scheme”.
“Associations can strengthen support to help their members make their […] careers more sustainable,” said Minister Teo.