Apr 24, 2014

The Plight of the Self-employed and Freelancers in Singapore

(Daddy blogs)

Whenever I mention to people that I am a Financial Planner by profession - and hence, self-employed - the most common response will be, "Wah, very good right? Work at your own timing, and no need go into office everyday!"

While that may be true to a certain extent, there are also many struggles these group of self-employed people face that many are not aware of. Come to think of it, freelancers are in the same predicament too... and what do you know - I am also in this group by virtue of my moonlighting as a blogger.

Of course, freelancers and the self-employed encompass a much larger group than that and they include tour guides, tuition teachers, taxi drivers, sports coaches and real estate agents. And as an integral part of the workforce in Singapore, this growing pool of freelancers and self-employed do face certain key challenges in our daily lives.

No CPF, Medical and Annual Leave Benefits

Compared to employed workers, freelancers and the self-employed in Singapore are not entitled to Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, annual leave, medical leave, and rights under labour legislation such as the Employment Act and the Work Injury Compensation Act. Full-time employees are also given basic insurance protection but for us, we are on our own. And don't even get me started on the '13th Month Bonus' payout!

Legal Protection

Freelancers are the most vulnerable group of the two, in my opinion. And more often than not, it has to do with timely payment for services rendered. Many freelancers all have their own horror stories to tell: the client that refused to pay because "the work was atrocious", or the client who perpetually delays payment just because there usually isn't any binding penalties for late payment. Legal action is difficult to pursue because it may just not be worth the said freelancer's time (and money).

No Stable Income

Freelancers and the self-employed are never assured of a steady stream of income. They depend on the number of clients and/or amount of work assignments in order to support our families. So in times of economic crisis, these groups of people will be the hardest hit. And unlike employess whose annual pay increment is usually a given (no matter how small), freelancers and the self-employed do not enjoy this privilege and often have to justify an increase in their rates... or face having business being sought elsewhere.

Unable to Gain from Upgrading Schemes

Compared to salaried workers, freelancers and the self-employed usually do not have the luxury of being sent for certification courses on the company's expense. Any costs arising from enrollment into a skill certification course comes out of one's own pocket. Even then, there seems to be a perceived lack of recognition accorded to the upgraded skill qualifications.

Suffice to say, more can definitely be done for this group of workers in Singapore. And at the forefront of it all, Mr Ang Hin Kee, Assistant Secretary General of NTUC, has highlighted the concerns of this group and how more support should be given to them in his Budget Speech in March 2014:

1. Recognize and appreciate capabilities

There may be more freelancers and self-employed taking on certifications such as Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), but yet still struggle with its recognition among employers. This is because it is still uncommon to see WSQ as a criterion in job advertisements or skills specifications in tenders. So hopefully, the Government, employers & buyers can speed up the recognition of such training certifications, and do more to raise the public awareness of these skills qualifications.

2. Create Business Opportunities

A collective effort could be spearheaded by NTUC and the Government to explore new business opportunities for this group, so that their services could be marketed via different platforms.

Absorbing new technology, raising productivity, improving the quality and competitiveness of services – these not only apply to companies and businesses but more crucially, they are equally as important to the freelancers and self-employed. So in order for new business opportunities to grow, these group of people must be enticed to want to crave in upgrading their skills set. This where the Government can come in – by heavily subsidising (or dare I say, even free) many of the upgrading skill courses open to the freelancers and self-employed.

When it comes to one’s own business, the organization of marketing is typically one of the weakest links due to it being a one-man show. So I would like to see either NTUC or the Government set up a distribution system for some of the services that these group of people offer, like the sports coaches and private tour guides. More feasibility studies will definitely have to be done, but I feel this will go a long way in ensuring a steady stream of business for them.

3. Provide support to save up for personal contingency

As a result of the instability nature of a freelancer's or self-employed's income stream, more support can be given, so that they can do more to save up for contingency planning such as paying for housing, healthcare, dealing with temporary loss of income and saving for retirement. Granted that these are challenges faced by almost every worker in Singapore, the freelancers and self-employed have to make provision for these contingencies on their own.

The Finance Minister had announced in Budget 2014 that the Government will defray the employers’ share of the increased CPF contribution rate for employees age 50-55 with a Temporary Employment Credit. Mr. Ang had urged the Government to consider giving the same quantum under the Temporary Employment Credit to the group of freelancers and self-employed who make voluntary contributions to their CPF Medisave as well. In addition, he had also called for the same amount of Workfare Income Supplement payout to be given to the self-employed, should they qualify for Workfare.

In truth, no job is easy and every career path requires work and effort - even more so for a freelancer or self-employed individual. These group of people form a unique category of workforce which contributes to the economic growth of Singapore. And as Singapore approaches her 50th Birthday, we should not neglect this group of the workforce so that all of us can move forward in the same direction.

Photo Credits: Troll MEME GeneratorWomen as entrepreneursMeme GeneratorPositiveaddictionboston.com, and Cheezburger

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