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Supporting Singapore’s Gig Economy: Embracing Sustainability & Fairness

In Singapore’s buzzing, tech-savvy economy, gig workers have become an indispensable cog in the machinery. However, the unique challenges they face have increasingly been in the spotlight, leading to calls for comprehensive support and improved representation.

Koh Poh Koon, Singapore’s Senior Minister for Manpower, recently underscored the crucial role gig workers play in the city-state, especially amid the pandemic. As the gig economy has surged, the need for proactive measures to ensure the welfare of these workers has become more evident.

The emphasis now is to ensure that gig workers aren’t left behind when it comes to longer-term needs such as retirement planning, housing, and injury compensation. Koh shared these insights in a recent chat, asserting that gig work isn’t a fleeting trend but a vital part of Singapore’s future economy.

To facilitate a fairer negotiation environment between gig workers and platform companies, the Singapore government has embraced a set of recommendations from a tripartite workgroup. These guidelines aim to grant gig workers some legal authority, improving their ability to stand on equal ground with platform companies.

This step is particularly relevant for workers associated with ride-hailing and food delivery companies like Grab, GoJek, and Foodpanda. According to the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore hosts 88,400 gig workers as of 2022.

However, Koh clarified that the legal mandate doesn’t equate to unionization. It’s a unique case, as gig workers have distinct priorities compared to traditional workers. They cherish their work flexibility but are often subject to stringent management control. Changes in matching and pricing algorithms on platforms, for example, can drastically impact their livelihoods.

Koh pointed out that the incomes of gig workers tend to be modest and relatively more unstable compared to standard employment. Therefore, equipping them to voice their concerns is key to ensuring a more sustainable platform ecosystem.

Notably, a recent study by DBS revealed that gig workers in Singapore are the most financially stretched group, with an alarming decline in their savings. The expense-to-income ratio for these workers was recorded at 112% in May, significantly higher than the median customer’s 57%.

Yet, the conversation around a minimum wage for gig workers isn’t entirely pertinent, says Koh. The freedom to work as much or as little as they want is inherent to their gig-based occupation. What matters most is to maintain the desired flexibility for both workers and platform companies.

The term “tripartism” resonates strongly in this context. Singapore’s “Tripartite Workgroup on Representation for Platform Workers” was established last year, a collaborative effort of the Manpower Ministry, Singapore’s labor movement, and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

In Koh’s view, this tripartism—bringing together government, platform companies, and workers—forms the bedrock of a trustworthy relationship. It’s considered the ‘secret sauce’ of Singapore’s labor landscape.

The tripartite workgroup’s recommendations span various aspects such as acquiring representation mandates, defining negotiation scopes, formalizing agreements, and settling disputes between representative bodies and platform companies.

Koh firmly believes in this tripartite model’s effectiveness. As he puts it, “As technology changes, platform companies change their business models, there is a dialogue platform for both parties to engage conversation … It has to be win-win.” It indeed seems that in Singapore’s bustling gig economy, the future of work is already here, driving the need for adaptable, sustainable solutions.