Issues in the freelance industry, what more can be done?

There are some 200,000 freelancers in Singapore. They belong to the property, finance, driving (both taxi and private hires) and a variety of skills for hire individuals. This number is set to grow; there is greater attraction to the the flexible, earn-as-you-desire lifestyle and with newer technologies, there will be more work to be done and freelancers are ready to fill the pool.

As with anything that grows in popularity, it needs to be understood and troubles need to be forecasted and factored for. Normal employees have CPF, housing, insurance, health and welfare taken care of. Their rights and liabilities are protected and limited by the Employment Act and they have trade unions to represent them should the need arise.

Freelancers on the other hand, are on their own. They are not big enough to be called “businesses” but frequently treated as if they are. They don’t have the resources, the laws, the associations and the systems in place to protect them as robustly as traditional employees do.

We spoke with 5 freelancers in various industries and asked them how they want the industry to grow and what national policies would help them.

a.) Setup recognition body: Serene Chia, 23, graphic designer

“It would be good if there is a body of people who can verify our skills. This would help weed out those whom are not dedicated to their work and help our clients determine whether or not we are suitable for the job. For employees, their certification and testimonials help them during interviews. For us, we don’t all go to formal school and even if we do, it does not represent the level of our skill and commitment. We need this even more because we are seeking new jobs everyday, it is as if every single day we are at a job interview.”

b.) Dispute management: Lee Tjin Khai, 27, sports coach

“Every now and then we would encounter problems with invoicing, disagreement with the work carried out and various other disputes. Not everything can be settled by lawyers and indeed that is the worst way of managing problems. 99% of the time, the client would win or don’t pay. Because they’re at the upper hand. Is there a way a government body can mediate or help back us up?”

c.) Insurance: Reginald Seow, 33, property agent

“We don’t enjoy economies of scale like a company has. We pay normal plans, but are exposed to all sorts of occupational hazards. It would be good if insurance companies can design special policies and price them competitively for us”

d.) CPF contributions: Mohd Iskandar, 43, financial planner

“Normal employees get employer CPF contribution. Although I have my own contributions, it would be good if my company can contribute also. Moreover, many of my peers would rather spend today than to put aside the money and enjoy the high interest rates that CPF brings. They would kill me if I ask for the law to enforce CPF payments, but isn’t that what employees have to do? It is for their own good.”

e.) Do not abuse the freelancer pool: Francis William Rodriguez, 27, programmer 

“Although I am happy doing freelance work, I am concerned that the availability and prices that we quote would affect full time employment. Why would an employer pay to hire someone when they can get things done on-demand? There are many benefits of being in full time employment and I am concerned clients who have gotten used to my prices would not want to hire me full time in the future.”



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