TL;DR – Or are we nannying those who “refuse to get a proper job”?
What exactly is a freelancer?
A previously “dirty” term of sorts to describe those who do not have “a proper full-time job”, these days it can encompass those who hold jobs as dispatch riders, photographers, designers and even those who are effectively a one-man-show small business. The latest stats reveal that there are now over 200,000 own-account holders (aka freelancers) and this number looks like it’s set to keep growing.
Daring to Disrupt // Dialogue with Airbnb, Grab and Touché about exploiting niches, challenging incumbents and changing the business landscape and the future of work and choice.
Almost 500 people turned up yesterday 7 September for the first fair for freelancers (to be fair to freelancers, geddit? lol) organised by the labour movement at the Red Dot Design Museum. The fair puts together networking opportunities for freelancers, dialogue sessions with industry players such as Airbnb, Grab and Touché and booths by 10 “aggregators” or basically platforms which freelancers can use to find job opportunities or collaborate together and 13 “solutions providers” which provide services that freelancers might need, such as shared work spaces, payment solutions and contracts creation.
The ticket fee ($8 for union members and $12 for non-members) also includes a legal guide for freelancers and a box of customised name cards.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee says that the traditional mode of employment has started to change and the labour movement has to ensure that freelancers too have fair employment terms and that their needs, such as medical insurance, skills training and retirement planning, are met.
“We want to see working people be able to pick different choices of career – whether as employee or freelancer – and have these lead to the same outcome.”
While I applaud the NTUC for this initiative – amongst the many others by the U FSE or the Freelancers and Self-employed Unit – it also begets the question,
Do freelancers require special assistance simply cause they are freelancers?
As I mentioned, freelancers is a very broad term covering many responsibilities in many industries. This fragmentation hence makes it very difficult to come up with one-size-fits-all solutions and while a general fair like that might give rise to collaboration initiatives, it is my personal opinion that it is better to first work on facilitating freelancers in the same ‘jobs’ or trade to come together for a collective voice, such as U Creative for creative professionals and the Private Hire Vehicles Association (PHVA) launched earlier this year to cater to the Grab/Uber drivers.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee, Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing and Mark Koh of Temploy.
Moving forward, while freelancing is a very attractive way of work (flexi-hours, getting to work from home in PJs, work-life balance etc), it is inevitable that the tradeoffs will hence be the benefits that come from working as a full-time employee (though it might not be the case these days with companies mainly offering contracts instead of permanent employment).
Would it then be necessary to think about how freelancers can also be entitled to such benefits such as insurance and medical coverage / discount? And now that constant upgrading is essential for survival in Singapore’s competitive economy, should there be grants and subsidies that freelancers can apply for their courses? Perhaps NTUC can be a ‘surrogate’ employer of sorts to entitle freelancers to these?
And of course, payment – or rather non-payment – is a huge problem for freelancers. Could a possible solution be that the labour movement set up a system where the service buyer / clients pays upfront but held in trust by the union and payment is only disbursed when the job is completed? Such as the escrow system by IoTalents which holds the amount paid by the buyer in trust and releases it in instalments to the freelancer as tasks are completed.