Advisory committee on gig workers meets for first time, does not rule out legislation to protect workers

SINGAPORE – A committee tasked to look into protections for gig workers, including delivery riders, private-hire car drivers, and taxi drivers, is not ruling out legislative changes in working towards a fairer and more balanced relationship between such workers and the companies they work for.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Koh Poh Koon, who is adviser to the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers, told the media that the committee will consult widely so that it can come up with a balanced set of recommendations by around the second half of next year.

When asked what will come out of the committee’s work, he suggested that some of the recommendations may involve legislative change.

He also stressed that the committee, which met for the first time on Wednesday (Sept 15), is still in the early stages of its work.

The committee, which was first announced during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally last month, has zeroed in on three priority areas.

It wants to improve retirement and housing adequacy of such workers, ensure they have adequate financial protection in case of work injury, and close the gap in bargaining power between such workers and the platforms that they work for.

Economics professor Danny Quah, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and vice-chairman of the committee, said: “Many of these (workers)… lack basic job protections in a way that’s quite different and unequal relative to other kinds of workers in our economy.

“So some of (our work) is simply a matter of levelling the playing field.”

As self-employed people, platform workers contribute about 8 per cent to 10.5 per cent of their income to their MediSave, but the companies they work for do not have to make Central Provident Fund contributions for them.

Such workers are also at greater risk of accidents and injury, by virtue of being on the road more often.

As they are not considered employees, they are also not covered under the Employment Act and are not able to form unions.

This means they have no access to the collective bargaining and dispute resolution mechanisms provided by the unions.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals chairman Goh Swee Chen, who chairs the advisory committee, hopes platform companies will recognise the important role that such workers play in their business.

She added that consumers are also becoming more discerning and will also look not just at the benefits that the platforms bring, but also at how they treat their workers.

“Ensuring their well-being is not just a pro-worker stance, but it also helps the sustainability of the business as they continue to grow and prosper in this particular segment,” she said.

To take in the views of platform companies, such as Grab, foodpanda and Deliveroo, the committee will form a resource panel through which these stakeholders can provide feedback directly.

This arrangement would allow the competing platforms to participate more openly and even share commercially sensitive data than if they were all on the same committee, Dr Koh said.

He added that the committee would work with these companies to gain a deeper understanding of the workers through their work performance data, such as how long they work and what their average earnings are.

A key issue that many countries have had to grapple with is how such workers can be afforded basic protections while still allowing them the flexibility of working for several different companies.

Acknowledging the concerns of the workers and the platforms about how the recommendations may impact their work and earnings, Dr Koh said: “We do want to make sure that we don’t end up over distorting the market place, and to preserve some of the flexibility that both the platform operators and workers desire.”

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