A new proposed framework will enable representative bodies to speak up on workers’ behalf.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) on 12 July 2023 accepted the eight recommendations by the Tripartite Workgroup (TWG) on Representation for Platform Workers to enhance the protection of platform workers.
The ministry announced this at a dialogue with platform workers and platform operators.
The scope of the recommendations covers the process for a platform worker representative body to obtain mandate for representation, scope of negotiations and formalising agreements, and resolving disagreements between representative bodies and platform operators.
The workgroup was formed in August 2022 at the suggestion of the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers to propose a representation framework for the platform sector.
NTUC is a member of both the workgroup and the committee. Since August 2021, it has called for more robust legislative backing to represent platform workers and advance their interests.
MOM said the Government will work closely with tripartite partners, platform workers and platform operators to implement the recommendations from the second half of 2024.
The ministry noted that NTUC’s affiliated associations National Taxi Association (NTA), National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and National Delivery Champions Association (NDCA) currently provide feedback from the workers to operators but lack the mandate to be their voice.
TWG Advisor and Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon said that the recommendations create a win-win representative framework for both platform workers and platform operators that considers the flexible nature of platform work.
“With representative bodies, platform workers can better negotiate for their interests and platform operators will also benefit from clearer processes and rules for negotiations and more efficient dispute resolution.
“[This is] to preserve the harmonious relationship between operators and the workers with the Government, the Labour Movement, and employers, in this case the platform companies working closely hand in hand.”
The ministry explained that in the traditional employer-employee setting today, unions that want to represent a group of workers must first be formally registered under the Registrar of Trade Unions.
Thereafter, they may seek representation by either getting direct recognition from the employer or securing majority of the employees’ votes through a process known as a secret ballot.
One of the TWG’s recommendations is thus for a representative body to follow a similar process by getting direct recognition from the platform operator or doing a secret ballot with platform workers.
The representative body obtains the mandate when it has majority support from the platform workers who voted, subject to a 20 per cent quorum.
This means that if 1,000 platform workers are eligible to vote at a secret ballot, at least 200 of them must have voted for the ballot to be valid. The representative body can legally represent workers if majority or at least 101 workers vote for representation.
MOM revealed that associations and operators currently discuss various issues such as payment rates, job allocation, avenues for recourse, and health and safety.
However, there is no process for negotiated agreements to be formalised where both parties are held accountable to what was agreed.
With the platform sector’s wide-ranging issues and rapidly evolving interests, the ministry considered that it is better for representative bodies and operators to decide on what to negotiate based on mutual agreement.
Another key recommendation is thus for representative bodies and operators to be given the flexibility to determine the scope of negotiation.
MOM also considered that negotiated agreements should be lodged with an authoritative body, so that there is clarity, transparency and trust in the process. Employee unions and employers currently practice this for their negotiated agreements, commonly known as collective agreements.
Hence, another accepted TWG recommendation is for a collective agreement to be certified at the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC).
The ministry pointed out that there are currently no channels to facilitate dispute resolution between associations and operators.
It therefore considered that there should be a neutral party through which disputes can be resolved to avoid a stalemate.
Employee unions and employers currently use this method, which has worked well to resolve disputes today.
Another accepted recommendation is thus for unresolved collective disputes to be surfaced to the MOM for conciliation. The case can be taken to the IAC for arbitration if conciliation fails.
NTUC welcomed MOM’s acceptance of the TWG’s recommendations.
“As a member of TWG, we feel strongly encouraged that the need for better protection for our platform workers has been recognised and that measures are being worked out to address the current gaps.
“We believe that the new representation framework can provide for a better balance of bargaining power between platform workers and platform operators. For a start, platform workers can benefit from better protection, with officially recognised associations to represent them.
“Further to this, this framework also acts as the north star for associations to negotiate for better work conditions and dispute resolutions.
“Finally, the recommendations come at a crucial time when clarity is much sought after in the nascent and fast-evolving nature of platform work,” NTUC said in a statement.
NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng called the announcement “a significant milestone for all platform workers”.
He elaborated: “NTUC has been advocating their interests and engaging them to understand their challenges over the years.
“As what could be the first-in-the-world tripartite collaboration for platform workers, the implementation of this framework paves the way for NTUC and our affiliated associations to officially represent them.
“We seek to work closely with our partners and platform workers to champion them in the areas of better wages, welfare, and work prospects.
“We want to thank all platform workers who have placed their trust and journeyed with us in making this possible.”
NDCA President Goh Yong Wei, NTA President Raymond Ong Thiam Khoon and NPHVA General Secretary Joseph Goh Say Sing are glad that platform workers will now have a legal avenue to raise work issues and problems.
They explained: “With representation, we will have the right to negotiate for our fellow platform workers’ interests.
“Instead of relying on informal agreements, we will be able to enter into binding agreements with platform operators.
“Platform workers can also look forward to clear processes and rules which will make it easier for us to obtain mandates from platform operators and to negotiate with platform operators on members’ behalf.”
Platform operators also welcomed the recommendations.
foodpanda Singapore Operations Director Darryl Chua noted that the guiding principles for negotiations safeguard the interests of all stakeholders in the platform sector and looks forward to more in-depth discussions on platform work matters.
ComfortDelGro spokesperson Grace Wu added that the formal representation improves platform workers’ welfare.
It also highlighted that it has been working closely with organisations such as NTA to look after the welfare and benefits of its platform workers, who include taxi drivers that use online platforms or apps and private hire car drivers.
Both companies noted that the move is crucial in ensuring the sector’s sustainability.
Lalamove also shared its thoughts on the recommendations. Its spokesperson said that the proposed framework may need to be reviewed to ensure relevancy in the evolving platform sector and plans to continue working with tripartite partners to grow the sector in Singapore.
NTUC U FSE is the voice for platform workers. Head to https://ufse.org.sg/Pages/platformworkers.aspx to improve the wages, welfare, and work prospects for freelancers.