Singapore Government taking advantage of freelancers? Time to stop it ah!

We often hear these days that the gig economy is growing. The same is true in Singapore. It is estimated that there are 200,000 self-employed and freelancers in Singapore. Some people may think that freelancers have it good. The impression is that freelancers have control of their time. They are their own bosses after all, right?

But there in lies the problem. They are their own bosses. But they are, often, by themselves. That means that they often don’t have much bargaining power. As a result, they can be left at the mercy of their clients. An article in Zaobao recently highlighted how a group of self-employed people are taken advantaged of by… guess who… SCHOOLS!

The Zaobao article mentioned Mr Justin Teh, who is a netball coach for schools. Apparently, because Mr Teh has built some reputation for himself, he doesn’t have to worry about his income being affected because of unexpected cancellations of training sessions by schools. However, according to the Zaobao article, not all coaches for schools are so fortunate. A rough translation from the Zaobao article:

“Some of his (i.e. Mr Teh’s) peers in the industry are affected by unfair service contracts. For example, some schools do not specify exactly how many hours of training they are committed to paying the coach for, but instead only give a rough estimate of the number of hours of training they intend to engage the coach for.”

Presumably, these coaches likely end up getting paid less than what they thought they would be. And there’s nothing they can do about it. Complain to who? Complain got use meh? Not as if complain already they can get fair compensation. And even if can get fair compensation, after they’ve complained, you think the schools will still hire them? No. So… how? Just suck them lor.

Such is the life of many freelancers. Other problems freelancers face include having potential customers asking them to do work for them for “exposure”. As if exposure can be eaten…

Can anything be done? I mean… even if the government agencies (i.e. schools) can take advantage of freelancers, then is there still hope?

It seems that NTUC wants to do something about it. According to the Zaobao article, Mr Ang Hin Kee, who has been recently appointed as assistant director-general of NTUC wants to push for policies and measures to safeguard the interests and welfare of freelancers and the self-employed. Mr Ang considers freelancers and self-employed personnel whose work timings and service prices are essentially dictated by their clients to be “tied freelancers”. Another example of such tied freelancers are Uber drivers.

Mr Ang thinks that since tied freelancers are bound to their clients by their contracts, those clients ought to provide some form security to the freelancers. That’s why, according to Mr Ang, NTUC is including the following in their wish list for Budget 2017:

  • Policies to ensure that freelancers and the self-employed get medical benefits
  • Review how freelancers and the self-employed can make CPF contributions and receive CPF contributions from their service buyers
  • For freelancers and the self-employed to gain access to channels and tripartite channels to resolve disputes
  • Let  freelancers and the self-employed to receive support from the Government for contributing towards their own retirement adequacy

Wait. Isn’t NTUC part of the government? Well… apparently they aren’t. Technically, the labour movement is supposedly independent of the government. So they can fight for the rights of employees, including civil servants. And if there ever is a need, they can even go against the government. Like… if the government has unfair employment practices. Like… in this case of self-employed sports coaches.

But will Mr Ang and NTUC be really able to get the government to enact pieces of legislation to safeguard the interest and welfare of the self-employed and freelancers? And even if such pieces of legislation are enacted, can they ensure that the government enforce and implement them? Companies who heavily procure the services of freelancers and the self-employed will certainly raise their objects. Will the government accede to NTUC’s requests against the objections of those companies?

Don’t know. Mr Ang and NTUC certainly have their work cut out for them if they want to see their wishes turned into reality.


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