Gig economy warrants a closer look: Tharman

The rise of tech firms like Uber and Deliveroo has created tens of thousands of jobs across the world, but Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is concerned that they do not provide the kind of benefits that more traditional employees enjoy.

The army of part-time workers driving cars for hire and delivering your food in the so-called gig economy tend to be independent contract workers, so they miss out on perks like healthcare that others take for granted.

Mr Tharman said this is a trend that warrants closer inspection.

"I'm not yet a fan of the gig economy," he said during a dialogue at the McKinsey Innovation Forum at the Suntec convention centre yesterday. He was speaking with McKinsey & Company global managing partner Dominic Barton.

"Some of the people in what is described as the gig economy are those who've got no choice because they can't get a full-time job, they can't get a secure job. That's something which has to be tackled everywhere," he noted.

Furthermore, hiring contract workers "serves the interest of the company because they're really pushing risk onto the contract worker and I don't think that's a great social model", he added.

"We've got to avoid a continuing drift - risk being passed from companies to workers, who actually can't take much risk - the risk of instability in wages, and the risk of not being prepared for retirement because of a lack of social security contributions."

Well-paying part-time jobs

  • The job market isn't exactly a big party right now, and fresh graduates may consider part-time options to tide through this period.
  • Private tutoring is far and away the most lucrative part-time job there is out there, and the easiest to get into-no months of training or shoring up certifications.
  • That means that just by teaching a few hours a week, you can easily make enough to cover your basic expenses.
  • If you're a university graduate, you might be able to command more than $50/hour, especially for A level or IB subjects. That's more than you'll be earning per hour in your first real job.
  • If you're looking for a part-time job in F&B that pays a little more, consider becoming a banquet waiter. You'll earn at least $8 to $10 an hour.
  • The work is fast-paced and intense, as you'll be working at weddings, corporate dinners and other such stressful gigs.
  • Brewing coffee for chicly-attired customers paints an idyllic picture of a young graduate working towards their dreams. In reality, though, nobody wants to earn $6 an hour, and now it looks like you don't have to.
  • Lots of "indie cafes" are now willing to pay above market rate for good waitstaff and baristas, often in the region of $8 to $8.50 an hour.
  • The catch is that you're expected to give better service than you would expect at a run of the mill eatery in a heartland mall, but seriously, that's a pretty low bar.
  • Shopping malls are always buzzing with super-noisy roadshows, hawking everything from food to questionable-looking massage devices.
  • Retailers at these events usually hire roadshow promoters or demonstrators on an ad hoc basis, and the pay is pretty decent, too-you can expect at least $9 to $10 an hour.
  • If the job involves additional tasks like collecting name cards from visitors or registering guests using the computer system (as is common at expos), you might be able to earn around $12 to $15.
  • If you're a cosplay freak, have always dreamed of working at Disneyland or simply want a job that won't get you recognised by acquaintances on the street, sign up to be a mascot.
  • Some mascot jobs will have you wearing an actual putrid costume, mask and all, which after the novelty of having kids run towards you wears off, puts you in real danger of dying of heatstroke.
  • On the upside, mascot assignments pay quite handsomely considering all you have to do is stand around, smile and try not to faint. At the very least, you can expect to earn $8-10/hour, but on the higher end of the scale you can earn up to $25 an hour.
  • Becoming a taxi driver is like the middle aged Singaporean's backup plan. So it's unsurprisingly that more and more Singaporeans are becoming UberX drivers in their spare time.
  • Unlike taxi drivers, you won't need to go for training, and the great thing about being an Uber driver is that you can earn some spare cash literally any time of day,

Mr Tharman's comments reflect some of the points raised in a Mc- Kinsey report published this month that said lifetime employment at one company is largely a relic of the past. But it also added that while the rise of the gig economy could create economic gains, it also raises questions surrounding benefits, income security and worker protections.

"Any proposal will have to tackle multiple angles, starting with who would pay for such benefits and how they would be earned and tracked for workers with multiple clients and employers," the report said.

Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, said the Govern- ment's role, as it navigates the future of work, is to help speed up the transfer of skills and knowledge across companies big and small.

To do this, it has to avoid regulations that hamper economic dynamism. Then it has to coordinate the players in the economy "so as to thicken interactions within every cluster and speed up the rate of learning", he said. "Speeding up the rate of learning, cluster by cluster, is the new competitive game. The countries that speed up learning the most will win."

Workers, too, should think about how to augment their own abilities with technology, Mr Tharman added.

"The future jobs, the most rewarding jobs, are going to be those that involve thinking and making, thinking and designing, being on the production floor at the same time that you are leading strategy in an organisation.

"And that's happening in a whole range of sectors. So there's a lot more fluidity," he said.

This article was first published on October 26, 2016.
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