More protection on the horizon for freelancers
Tripartite workgroup releases recommendations to better support self-employed persons
Injuries are not uncommon for freelance documentary photographers such as Ms Sim Chi Yin, who travels the world on assignment for various media outlets.
She considered buying insurance that would cover her in the case of loss of income due to disability but decided against it.
Then, she lost almost a year's worth of income when her thumb was dislocated in an attack by North Koreans while on assignment in north-east China for a French newspaper.
Said Ms Sim: "The issue I had was that my income as a freelance documentary photographer was not high or consistent, and the insurers always demanded proof of income to set the level of disability income one gets."
Seven key recommendations released by a tripartite workgroup formed last March aim to better support self-employed persons (SEPs), or freelancers, like Ms Sim.
The Government accepted the recommendations, and will respond during the Committee of Supply parliamentary debates next month.
The workgroup suggested a new insurance product to compensate for the loss of income due to injury or prolonged illness, and is recommending contributions be made to freelancers' Medisave accounts whenever they earn a service fee.
It also recommended institutional support and mediation for payment disputes.
These recommendations aim to address key concerns raised by SEPs, who have consistently made up about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of the Singaporean workforce in the past decade.
The workgroup sought feedback from the public and consulted 170 community leaders from different stakeholder organisations.
It noted that while many SEPs do have private insurance for hospitalisation bills, there is a gap in protection against loss of income due to prolonged illness or injury.
"One of the biggest risks in being self-employed is the lack of a safety net, and I learnt that the hard way," said Ms Sim, 39, who last year became the first Singaporean Nobel Peace Prize photographer and was commissioned to showcase the work of last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
She is now based in Beijing and was earlier with The New Paper and The Straits Times.
Her private insurance covered some of the cost of surgical procedures and physiotherapy after the incident, but "time lost is time lost for a freelancer".
The recommendation for a contribute-as-you-earn model for Medisave accounts addresses freelancers' concerns about lack of adequate funds in the Central Provident Fund for healthcare and retirement.
Currently, SEPs have to manage their own Medisave contributions by submitting it yearly.
Under the new model, corporate service buyers and intermediary platforms that engage SEPs will deduct and transmit a portion of the SEP's service fee to their Medisave accounts.
Mr Ian Gregory Tan, co-founder of Witching Hour Studios, a game development company that frequently hires freelancers, said the change is welcome.
He said: "As an employer and also an SEP myself, I understand that for SEPs to handle their Medisave on their own is a lot of paper work.
"But for companies who already pay employees' Medisave, it is just one more person."
For freelancers, late payments, partial payments or even non-payment is prevalent.
A tripartite standard recommended by the workgroup could see companies implementing contracts that cover key items such as payment amount, schedule and parties' obligations.
It would also like to see more sector agencies and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, previously only for employer-employee relationships, step in to mediate disputes between SEPs and their service buyers.
Photographer Edwin Koo said the suggestions "send a message that corporations should not take advantage of SEPs".
"But we don't want to burn bridges with our clients and mediation is already bordering on that.
"Once a third party steps in, it is quite severe," he added.