Yeo Wan Ling: Freelancers and the Self-Employed Need Greater Protection and Welfare Benefits

NTUC Director Yeo Wang Ling also spoke on the need to create workplaces that fully embrace women, and the importance of the Progressive Wage Model in the retail and food services sectors.
01 Mar 2022

By Kay del Rosario

The gig economy has grown in popularity and importance, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has provided crucial lifelines for many, allowing workers from affected industries to seek freelance jobs in food delivery and ride-hailing services.

Speaking at the Budget Debate in Parliament on 1 March 2022, NTUC U SME and Women & Family (WAF) Unit Director Yeo Wan Ling emphasised the importance of partnering companies to protect the interests and welfare of these freelance and self-employed workers.

“As we seek to maintain the flexibility and ease of entry into the gig economy that current circumstances allow, it is imperative that any change we desire requires the companies and platforms providing such work to share our sentiments and work towards providing better support for our freelancers,” she said.

Gig workers are not considered employees and often not afforded the protection and benefits salaried employees enjoy.

Ms Yeo commended how some platforms have put in place some measures to protect their riders, such as offering their riders basic accident insurance coverage.

The Labour Movement, through NTUC Learning Hub, has also started to introduce career conversion classes to protect the long-term livelihoods of drivers who intend to move out of the industry.

Even as these efforts are encouraging, such measures do not sufficiently protect workers, particularly those who rely on the gig economy as their primary source of income,” said Ms Yeo.

She also urged the tripartite partnership to “strive to support a healthy diversity of career options and sustainable, dignified livelihoods brought about by the gig economy.”   

Uplifting Workers in Retail and Food Services

Ms Yeo highlighted the statistic that 60 per cent of food services and 45 per cent of retail full-time resident workers are earning at or less than the 20th wage percentile of the local workforce.

She stressed the importance of the upcoming Progressive Wage Model (PWM) in these sectors to uplift workers through upskilling and investing.

Upskilling works and tech is here to help. The PWM ensures competitive pay comes from justifiable reasons. The results speak for themselves,” she said.

Ms Yeo also outlined three reasons why setting up PWMs in retail and F&B is a momentous step for all Singaporeans:

  • There are clear benefits to upskilling in these sectors
  • These sectors include the most hardworking, yet vulnerable Singaporean workers
  • These sectors cover a significant number of lower wage Singaporeans.

Embracing Women

Finally, Ms Yeo spoke on the need to adopt a holistic approach, together with tripartite partners, in creating workplaces that fully embrace and accommodate women.

She paid special attention to women returning to work, as well as single mothers.

“The Labour Movement has long recognised the distinct challenges these women face at work that primarily stems from them having to saddle a greater proportion of domestic responsibilities compared to their counterparts, and have accordingly championed for provisions to advance their cause,” she said.

NTUC Learning Hub, for one, has started to co-create with the Women and Family Unit, confidence training courses as well as skills-based programmes to help give women returning to work the much needed boost when it comes to re-entering the workplace.

Furthermore, the Labour Movement has sought to continuously enhance Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) standards to stay responsive to changing family and workplace needs.

“As we celebrate these strides forward, we should also be mindful of ongoing gaps and lapses,” said Ms Yeo.