Greater support proposed for gig economy workers in Singapore

Concerns around access to employment benefits and the impact on financial planning from insecure work

Self-employed workers in Singapore are set to be offered better support packages to bring them further into line with their employed counterparts and to ensure a competitive workforce.

At a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) event, secretary-general Chan Chun Sing revealed the government intended to offer better security to the growing number of self-employed and freelance workers in the country.

“There are between 180,000 and 200,000 freelancers and self-employed people (SEP) in Singapore, forming about 10 per cent of the workforce here,” added second minister for manpower Josephine Teo.

And with the number of gig workers expected to rise, the government of Singapore is concerned that the basic protections offered to employees by their employer in a regular workplace are not be available to the self-employed, which could be detrimental to the region’s economy.

The minister of manpower has set up a tripartite workgroup to address some of the key concerns around this area, including workers not getting paid on time, not getting paid at all, ineligibility for employment benefits (including loss of income while injured) and the uncertainty of finding sufficient work and its impact on long-term financial planning in readiness for retirement.

A consultation paper has now been published, with comments requested by 22 December.

Jaya Dass, country director for Randstad Singapore, said she believed there was the opportunity for the gig economy to grow exponentially in the next few years, as Singapore invests more into technology to improve overall productivity.

“The gig economy is a huge draw for freelancers and employees on contractual terms, among others. These individuals provide niche technical skills and deep industry knowledge that are highly demanded by employers hiring for a specific type of skillset to complete projects, especially in IT,” said Dass.

Aside from the concerns being addressed by the tripartite group, Dass pointed out there was more that could be done to ensure adequacy of legal, institutional and social protection frameworks. This extends from standard employee benefits, such as those linked to contributions to the Singapore Central Provident Fund – a compulsory savings scheme for working Singaporeans and permanent residents primarily to fund their retirement – to healthcare, housing needs and “attractive remuneration packages to help protect intellectual property”, she said.

“The gig economy is driven predominantly by technological innovation. The speed of advancement in technological innovation means there are more risks for self-employed workers,” added Dass. “They have to invest extra time and money to stay on top of market trends and improve their skills. In addition, they have to ensure adequate social and legal protection in their contracts to remain competitive in the market and build their personal brands.”

The increase in both the scope and size of the gig economy only means a more competitive workforce, which could greatly reshape Singapore’s future job market. Dass said: “Employers may be more inclined to hire from the gig economy because it provides the organisation with the needed expertise and flexibility that lead to higher productivity and cost savings. However, from an economic standpoint, employers need to strike the perfect balance between retaining permanent employees and protecting contract staff to ensure business continuity and growth.”

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