Cost a factor in any move to protect freelancers

Cost a factor in any move to protect freelancers
PHOTO: The Straits Times

A push for better protection at the workplace for tied freelancers is good news, especially for a freelance courier who wants to be known only as Alfred.

Alfred, who is in his 60s, works for a delivery service that links parcel senders to third-party couriers.

He told The New Paper: "Obviously, our kind of workers don't get what full-time employees get. What can we do when it comes to issues like payment delays?

"With protection, we don't have to worry anymore."

But cafe owner Ivan Lee, 35, who engages part-time workers, said there is no incentive to provide employment benefits for them, adding that any extra money forked out could cost owners of small outfits.

Nanyang Business School's Associate Professor Boh Wai Fong understands why a move to protect tied freelancers may not sit well with businesses.

Prof Boh, who lectures at Nanyang Technological University, said: "Companies will naturally resist due to cost reasons, and also to create clear delineations between such gig workers and their regular workers.

"So it is unlikely companies will voluntarily provide such protection."

She added that gig workers may have to share the cost of providing such protection, which is in line with Singapore's Central Provident Fund philosophy.

Experts believe legislation may be required to protect freelance workers.


Mr Ian Lim, who heads TSMP Law's employment and labour team, said this could be done by amending the Employment Act, or through another dedicated piece of legislation.

But he cautioned: "Any statutory rights given to freelancers would have to be carefully considered and calibrated, given the many disparate varieties of such workers across different industries."

Will recognising tied freelancers in the eyes of the law accord them better protection, much like a recent UK employment tribunal ruling in favour of Uber drivers?

It is possible, said Mr Lim, but there is a caveat.

"For this to work, it would, among other things, require a clear definition at law as to exactly who would belong to that category," he said.

Read also: Freelancers must be protected: NTUC

This article was first published on Jan 9, 2017.
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