Singapore’s government commits to helping the gig economy stay afloat amidst the coronavirus outbreak

Food delivery cyclist

Help is available for freelancers and gig economy workers who are left without income as a result of coronavirus in Singapore.

By Joelyn Chan

Without legal protections, Singapore’s 200,000 gig economy workers are at the forefront of the economic fallout from coronavirus. Reduced public demand leaves gig workers with reduced earnings and if the downturn endures, they could find themselves struggling to earn a living.

Singapore has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, of any ASEAN nation. The outbreak prompted the nation to lower its 2020 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast range to -0.5% to 1.5%. The tourism and service sectors are among the sectors most heavily impacted.

Freelancers and independent contractors that work in the gig economy stand to be among the worst affected workers. Ride-hailing drivers, food delivery riders, and fitness instructors run the risk of going without income during the 14-day quarantine period, or longer if they contract the virus.

Recognising the opportunity for potential and the need to support the most economically vulnerable workers, the Singaporean government devised an assistance framework for gig economy workers during this tumultuous period.

The Singaporean government has taken steps to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic

The government has devised a way of containing the virus while strengthening the gig economy

Ride-hailing drivers and food delivery riders that come down with the virus are torn between self-isolating for the benefit of everyone or continuing to work to maintain an income.

To entice workers into making a decision that does not contribute to the spread of the virus, the Manpower Ministry invested S$36 million (US$26 million) into a training support scheme. From April to June 2020, self-employed workers will be given a training allowance of S$7.50 an hour when they attend selected SkillsFuture courses and sector-specific training programmes. There is no cap on how much training they can register for. Gig economy workers can take advantage of the current downtime to build skills while earning a small income.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said, “The immediate concern of all (freelancers) is the significant drop in earnings due to the Covid-19 outbreak … Not only will this scheme supplement their income, it can help them become more future-ready.”

The courses are available both online and in physical sessions, reducing the time spent interacting with the larger community and limiting the opportunities for the virus to spread.

More benefits lie ahead for the gig economy workers

While the training support scheme may pale in comparison to what other sectors are getting, it is worth noting that the gig economy is still in its infancy. Three years ago, the government set up the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-employed persons (SEPS).

The Singaporean government has been at the forefront of protection the rapidly increasing number of freelance workers. The Tripartite Group devised a set of industry guidelines, known as the Tripartite Standards, for contracting freelance workers. With greater adoption of these employer standards, freelance workers will enjoy more protections and improved welfare.

A pilot scheme called Contribute-As-You-Earn (CAYE) also allocates a portion of freelancer fees into MediSave accounts, providing more medical security for gig workers. Such policies will encourage more citizens, especially the unemployed, to be part of the gig economy.

Coronavirus outbreak will not slow the growth of the gig economy in Singapore. The government has taken decisive steps to ensure that its freelance population does not stagnate. Once the city-state has fully recovered from this crisis, its gig economy will bounce back faster and stronger.