Labour movement plans more support for freelancers

Labour movement plans more support for freelancers

Five years ago, Mr Garick Bay gave up a steady job as an engineer and took a 50 per cent pay cut to pursue his twin passions - photography and rock climbing - as a freelancer.

The 35-year-old events and wedding photographer, who is also a sports coach, must often deal with long hours and clients who assume his rates are negotiable.

"Society is evolving in the way it looks at and accepts freelancers," he said. "But it is still going slowly."

The labour movement is mulling over increasing support for freelancers like Mr Bay, in the wake of calls in Parliament last month for Singaporeans to regard freelance work not as a deviation from the norm, but as a viable career option.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Ang Hin Kee told The Straits Times that he is planning a job fair for freelancers, where those looking to market their services can find buyers, while also networking with one another and making contacts.

Mr Ang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said he wanted the fair to "break the myth that earnings can be made only through income earned via salary as an employee, and that that is the only viable or stable way to provide a livelihood".

He said the freelancer fair was as yet a "back-of-the-envelope idea" with no set dates, but that it could start off as a marketplace that would evolve to go online.

The fair would also bring in services such as aggregators to help freelancers. Mr Ang described these as firms which could gather a pool of freelancers and transact on their behalf, "kind of like (e-commerce app) Carousell, but for services instead of products".

He added: "Freelancers and the self-employed are working people too. Whether it be getting more assignments, more timely payments or more respect, it has to be clearly conveyed to the buyers of their services that not only are these the right things to do, they are also the only way to ensure the quality of this pool of resources gets better."

Freelancers The Straits Times spoke to welcomed the idea of the fair.

Film and TV production coordinator Vannesa Sim, 23, said it would be a useful start to have a platform on which to make contacts and to learn about coping with payment problems and market rates.

For instance, she said, those fresh in the industry are often exploited when it comes to payment rates.

"If you are an old-timer, they probably will not bully you into submission. But if you are a newcomer, they will makan (devour) you until the price difference in rates could be $600, even $1,000," said Ms Sim.

She hopes that there will one day be a union that will specially protect freelancers.

"A lot of freelancers don't even know their basic rights," she said.

According to Ministry of Manpower statistics, the number of residents who were "own account workers" in Singapore last year was nearly 170,000. The Straits Times understands, however, that this data might not capture all freelancers - for instance, it does not include sole proprietors, some of whom are also freelancers.

A conservative estimate by Mr Ang in Parliament put the total number of freelancers in Singapore at about 200,000 - a figure which he believes is likely to go up.

Industry experts say the tight labour market and uncertain economic conditions could be driving more employers to engage contractors and freelancers.

Mr Foo See Yang, vice-president and country general manager of recruiting firm Kelly Services Singapore, said: "While some companies may not want to commit to hiring a full-time employee because they are unsure of how their business will look like in six months, they still have an immediate need to fill a position and a job to be done."

At Helpling Singapore, which engages more than 1,000 freelance cleaners, managing director Hoe Yeen Teck said: "As the economy starts to go down, more people might be displaced and options like freelancing are useful as they cope with the loss of jobs.

"You would be surprised by the profiles of people who come through here. When you think about part-time domestic cleaning, you think it is some middle-aged lady, but we have university students, retirees, even accountants with some time on the weekend." Mr Bay hopes increased union support can help change the way people treat freelancers.

The father of two baby girls said: "The biggest assumption people have is that we work for passion and don't need to feed a family. But we are professionals too."

oliviaho@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 10, 2016.
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