All workers are equal, but some workers are more equal than others

You will probably recognize the title of this article if you did literature back in your school days. If you do not, I urge that you check out “Animal Farm” by George Orwell.

The original quote goes as follows:

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

From the book, Animal Farm, by George Orwell (Source: Alchetron)

The sentence is a comment on the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim the absolute equality of their citizens but give power and privileges to a small elite.

Every worker matters. So are freelancers workers too, and do they matter?

One of the key messages from the Labour Movement says “Every Worker Matters”. So if it is truly a case of EVERY worker matters, are freelancers workers too? Should they matter too?

I think they do matter.

Some people may argue that freelancers have given up their rights to be protected and to enjoy any staff benefits the moment they choose to be their own boss.

Since they have freedom, they do not deserve the typical staff welfare like CPF, annual leave, medical benefits, annual increment and bonuses. Right? After all, they walk into the Freelancers Door with their eyes wide open. Right? If we start giving them all these privileges and protection normally accorded to full-time employees, wouldn’t this further disrupt our employment market with more people choosing to be freelancers to enjoy the best of both worlds?

But they have already compromised in terms of job security and many have to fend for themselves, looking for jobs and living from job to job. And worse, sometimes, clients don’t even pay on time. Yes, even the so-called big clients. Do freelancers need to be “penalised” further for taking the freelancers route?

More importantly, these freelancers could be any one of us, today or tomorrow.

Or they could be our family and friends. Uncle Peter who is now driving Grab, that schoolmate Gerald who has ventured out to be a freelance graphic designer, or old neighbour Lisa who is now giving piano lessons to kids. Or any of your friends who are now freelance photographers, full-time tutors or even social media influencers.

Being freelancers does not change the fact that they are still working people in Singapore. If not taken care of, for instance in terms of retirement adequacy, saving up for housing needs, they may eventually become a bigger problem for the society.

Just how many freelancers and self-employed people are there in Singapore?

According to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the number of people who did self-employed work as their main job has remained stable at 8% to 10% of our resident workforce for the past decade. MOM had previously put this number to around 220,000 for the year 2017, but this number could be higher now that we see more people joining the private hire vehicle and food delivery segments.

What is interesting is that Singapore has a much higher percentage of freelancers who choose to be their own bosses voluntarily, as compared to other developed countries. In 2016, an 82% of freelancers indicated that they had done so voluntarily and in 2017, it was 77%. A separate study by PersolKelly showed that most freelancers in Singapore have chosen to go that route for the flexibility and freedom.

Worldwide trends show that this could be a growing phenomenon and we can expect more Singaporeans to turn to freelancing in future. If there is a lack of awareness and also lack of systems in place to help these freelancers do better planning, especially in terms of financial and retirement planning, it might burden our society unnecessarily if substantial number of freelancers need help and support in the later part of their lives.

Labour MP Ang Hin Kee says we need new solutions for new forms of employment

Labour MP and Assistant Director-General of NTUC, Ang Hin Kee raised some important points about better protecting the growing pool of freelancers in a Facebook post. He also made similar points in his speech in Parliament yesterday (4 Nov, 2019).


The Labour MP had posted on Facebook his thoughts about the proposed amendments to the CPF Act which will impact freelancers.

On the whole, Ang is supportive of the Contribute As You Earn (CAYE) scheme. For freelancers who provide services to government entities, the government will direct a portion of the payment to the freelancer’s Medisave Account in CPF. He had said,

“With this amendment, I think the role that the Government is taking on is clear. As a responsible service buyer, the Government wants to help freelancers make contributions to their MediSave accounts so that they can have sufficient savings for medical needs through the CAYE scheme. It is also imperative that the Government ropes in all Singaporean workers to come under its CPF safety net in an effective manner.”

Ang advocates for government to matching contribution for freelancers

Also in Parliament yesterday, Ang had suggested to the MOM that the government provide some matching of contributions under CAYE. Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo had said that it was a good suggestion and that “the government will look into providing some support.”

But while Ang is supportive of this amendment to the CPF Act, he made three further requests for the Government’s consideration. For those too lazy to read his full post, here is a quick summary.

  1. Government should be more proactive in supporting freelancers beyond CAYE. With the emerging gig economy, more should be done to protect the more vulnerable workers from companies that pass the risks to workers.
  2. Government can consider a co-payment of the Medisave contribution for freelancers who transact with Government entities. This is to help ease freelancers off the extra financial burden.
  3. Manpower of Ministry to look at enhancing training support for freelancers.This will ensure their employability and progression of all freelancers.


Labour MP and NTUC’s Assistant Director-General, Ang Hin Kee, advocating for better protection for our growing pool of freelancers (Source: CNA)

He then ended the post by explaining the importance of having new solutions like CAYE for freelancers.

“We need new solutions, like the CAYE, even as we address the unintended consequences of this new form of employment. This will ensure that freelancers do not unnecessarily struggle with the lack of employment or employability options.”

For those not familiar with Ang Hin Kee, he is the main guy the media usually go to for comments on taxis, private hire vehicle and freelancer issues. Why? Because Ang is the Advisor of National Taxi Association (NTA), Executive Advisor of National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA), as well as the National Instructors And Coaches Association (NICA). So yea, he’s probably the guy who knows the freelancers’ challenges and the scene of the gig economy in Singapore.

To the freelancers and self-employed reading this, thoughts?

(Featured image from e2i)

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