Platform Workers Deserve Better Protection

Being a platform worker has perks, but May Seah shares concerns about working as a private-hire driver.
By Shukry Rashid 22 Nov 2022
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About seven years ago, 54-year-old May Seah could only spend time with her husband once or twice a week.

She worked in estate management, which required her to be on standby 24/7. Meanwhile, her husband was working on rotating shifts as a civil servant.

Most times, when the couple does see each other at home, the husband would already be fast asleep.

May had been with the estate management company for 15 years. She loved the job and her colleagues, but she quit to spend more time with her family.

Flexibility was the most important issue as she was trying to find a new job. That was when she decided to be a private-hire driver and platform worker.

“I love the flexibility of the working hours. Most importantly, my husband is working on a rotating shift. So, I can blend well with his shift work and schedule … At any time, I can stop and go home when there’s a family emergency,” she explained.

Long-term Financial Adequacy

May is in her eighth year, ferrying passengers around as a private-hire driver. The flexibility of choosing when she wants to work also means she gets to spend more time with her family.

But she had to give up on safety nets such as CPF contributions, which affected her retirement and mortgage needs.

May said: “As a platform worker, my concerns are my retirement and the CPF contributions. Now, as a private-hire driver, we only contribute Medisave that is [out of] our pocket.”

Currently, self-employed persons must make compulsory contributions to their MediSave accounts. The contributions vary between eight and ten per cent, depending on their ages. Contributions to their CPF’s Ordinary and Special accounts are optional.

Platform workers also do not get CPF contributions from platform operators.

Even though it will affect her take-home pay, May said that she would be fine if she and the platform operators both contribute to her CPF, similar to how it works for regular employees.

“With each contribution, over the years, our CPF can accumulate, and we can look forward towards retirement,” she added.

Medical and Injury Coverage

As a platform worker, her income varies every day. She and her husband are still financially responsible for their parents and 16-year-old son.

If she does not work, she does not get paid. Not being able to work is especially concerning for most platform workers should they fall sick or get injured at work.

May learnt this the hard way a few years ago when she broke her ankle. She was out for six months recuperating from two surgeries.

During that time, she had no income and still had to continue paying for her car rental.

Platform workers currently cannot claim for work injuries under the Work Injury Compensation Act.

Luckily, she had enough savings and personal insurance to tide over the uncertain period.

She said: “The platforms cover us [for medical and injury], but we hope they can do more to help us tide over our daily expenses like vehicle rental and income loss.”

#EveryWorkerMatters Conversations

These concerns are just some of the topics May shared when she participated in a focus group discussion organised by NTUC on 15 November 2022.

The event was part of the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations organised for female taxi and private-hire vehicle drivers to hear their concerns, needs and aspirations.

Drivers also shared their career choice and work patterns, the issues they face, and their retirement needs.

May said: “That was a very good event … NTUC has come in as a party to help us, to speak up for us. They heard us out on our concerns about CPF, our retirement [needs].”

More than Just a Job

But beyond flexibility, May Seah chose this job because she is passionate about it.

“I meet different kinds of riders. And we exchange knowledge and cultures, which I really enjoy,” she said.

May recalled when she picked up a passenger in Bukit Merah, headed for Singapore General Hospital.

She said: “I could see she was tearing up in her eyes. I could tell that it was an urgent trip. It could be the last time she would see a loved one.”

That trip would have taken 10 to 15 minutes to drive in normal road conditions.

She switched on her car’s hazard lights and put her arm out of her window to signal other vehicles to give way.

She and her passenger reached the hospital in five minutes.

A few days later, May received a notification from the platform operator, saying that the passenger appreciated her gesture even when she did not ask for it.

May said: “We need money to survive, but it is not everything. We do an honest job as best we can, and God will provide.”