With the outbreak of COVID-19, businesses are scrambling to maintain a semblance of business continuity which enabled work-from-home arrangements as part of the new normal.
As a result, gig workers like 23-year-old Mohd Rifqy become a crucial lifeline, delivering food and other supplies to people.
Rifqy, who recently completed his national service, shared that working as a food delivery rider was an ‘obvious choice’ with flexible working hours and quick cash.
“If I want to earn more, I have to pick up more orders and work longer hours. Everything is own-time-own-target.”
Rifqy admits his parents are not entirely on board with his choice of work because of its income instability and long hours; however, he plans to continue doing this for the next two to three years.
“Honestly, my daily earnings have dipped the last six months. I think it’s because there are more delivery riders. Many people I know have turned to this job because they were retrenched or got a pay cut. This job can supplement their income. Now that our economy is recovering, maybe they will return to their full-time jobs.”
Rifqy acknowledged that he risks losing out to his peers who have embraced the conventional route of settling down in a full-time job.
“They would have a good headstart, maybe even got a promotion or two. But I know I can earn more than my friends, doing this now, while there is still a demand for it.”
When asked if he would consider taking up a course or two since the hours are flexible, Rifqy shrugged with this retort.
“Of course, I want to go upgrade. Maybe take a diploma in something to do with data or tech, then can use that to get a full-time job. But if I go to class, then how do I work? No work, no money.”
Every day I’m Hustlin’
The term “gig economy” was coined by the former New Yorker editor Tina Brown in 2009. Gig work is a form of independent contracting for online platform companies or ad-hoc freelancing.
Across the world, the gig economy is booming, but the flexibility of job-to-job work can come at a cost.
PM Lee raised his concerns for the well-being of food delivery riders in his National Day Rally (NDR) speech last year.
He highlighted that these gig workers have no employment contracts. As a result, they lack essential job protection that most employees have, such as workplace injury compensation, union representation, and employers’ contribution to the workers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF).
Opportunities to upskill and upgrade are also few and far between.
In short, very little protection has been put in place for these self-employed persons who risk their health as they take the front row seat to this pandemic, just so to earn a paycheck.
As Singapore continues to fight the virus in this new normal and Singaporeans combat the financial hit of the rising cost of living, there is a growing urgency to ensure some workers are provided with the necessary support.
Who among us is more vulnerable?
In his sharing with the media on 7 February, NTUC’s Secretary-General Mr. Ng Chee Meng shared about NTUC’s focus areas in 2022 include:
– Training workers and transforming businesses to enable better wages and work prospects.
– Protecting and representing a wider group of workers in different segments.
– Continuing to cushion the impact of the cost of living through NTUC social enterprises.
NTUC and the government recognize that some workers such as older and mature workers, persons with disabilities, and ex-offenders face more significant challenges at the workplace.
The support and initiatives extended to these groups of workers include wage support and employment credits, opportunities to upgrade and upskill and job matching services.
One such ongoing job matching effort is the collaboration between NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and Agape Connecting People (Agape), an outsourced contact center services company with a social mission to empower the disadvantaged and marginalized. This includes ex-convicts, mid-career switchers, and individuals who lost their source of income because of the pandemic.
e2i has also extended support to more than 46,000 displaced workers by matching them to new jobs or helping to transit to secondary jobs through Job Security Council (JSC) launched in 2020.
For lower-wage workers, NTUC said it would work with tripartite partners to quicken and widen the implementation of the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) . Some potential new sectors for the PWM include pest management and strata and facilities management.
Meanwhile, self-employed individuals working for online platforms like Rifqy can look forward to enhanced support frameworks which include improving working terms and conditions and medical and injury coverage and uplifting their work prospects.
Through all these efforts by NTUC and the government, we can build an inclusive Singapore where people of all backgrounds can do well.
Mr. Ng said: “NTUC has always been championing workers in the different segments, both in the traditional space and in new spaces such as the PMEs and gig workers. But essentially, our focus in 2022 is to upskill our workers in anticipation of a rebound in the economy, and then we can move full steam ahead into Industry 4.0.”
With the proper support put in place, perhaps then very soon, someone who harbors similar aspirations like Rifqy can finally chase his dream, fulfill his potential and get that diploma.