Safeguard the interests of freelancers in good and bad times

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2020 has been a tough year for Mr. Tan Yu Sheng and his fellow freelance bowling coaches. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing circuit breaker period in Singapore has brought face-to-face coaching to a halt.

“Bowling centers were seen as places of entertainment, so all forms of training were affected,” he said. “I was out of work all of a sudden. I was also worried that the pandemic would affect my students’ progress.”

SUPPORT FOR SELF-EMPLOYED AND SELF-EMPLOYED

Seeing the crisis as an opportunity to upskill himself, Mr. Tan, a member of the executive committee of the National Instructors and Coaches Association (NICA), began looking for courses to take. He learned about the Essential Digital Skills (EDS) program, a program funded by SportSG and secured by NICA, through the regular emails he received as a NICA member. He then suggested that a group of like-minded bowling coaches attend the class together.

Comprised of a series of video production workshops, the program lasted 60 hours and covered topics such as storyboarding and video editing. The skills learned enabled participating athletic trainers and fitness professionals to translate their physical lessons into digital content for virtual extracurricular activities (CCAs) in schools.

Mr. Tan and his fellow coaches attended online video production workshops as part of the EDS program.

NICA, supported by the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit (U FSE) of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), is working to ensure adequate opportunities for its members and to build their skills. NICA members include coaches in sports, outdoor learning and adventure, visual and performing arts, fitness and wellness, and enrichment.

Besides NICA, there are other NTUC-affiliated associations that seek freelancers and freelancers, such as the National Taxi Association (NTA); National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA); Association of Visual, Audio and Creative Content Professionals (Singapore); and the National Delivery Champions Association (NDCA).

The U FSE was established by the NTUC in 2015 to provide Singapore’s growing pool of freelancers and freelancers with support in the areas of wages, social protection and job prospects.

Ms. Jean See, Director of U FSE and Executive Secretary of NICA, highlighted the increase in the number of freelancers and freelancers in Singapore – from 228,200 a year ago to 248,500 today. “Lack of sufficient work, income uncertainty and concerns about health care and retirement adequacy remain the main challenges we face,” she said.

Last year, NICA introduced a hardship grant to provide one-time financial assistance to its members and introduced a temporary COVID-19 relief program between October 2021 and March 2022 to support members who had to stop working due to COVID-19 infections.

“NICA has disbursed nearly S$165,000 in aid to support around 200 members and their families during this period,” Ms See said. “We have also launched an online directory to increase our members’ visibility and connect them with potential service buyers so that our members can take on short-term jobs to earn an income. For May 1 this year, members can also enjoy a variety of exclusive privileges such as discounts of up to 50% at restaurants, lifestyle products and wellness merchants.

Ms. Yeo Wan Ling, Advisor to NTA, NPHVA and NDCA, and Director of U SME and U Women and Family, NTUC, shared: “Freelancers and self-employed people face persistent challenges in all types of work, including the uncertainty of finding enough work, fair contract terms and timely payment. The NTUC and UFSE recognize the need to represent gig workers and play an active role in defending and advancing their interests. Through our associations such as NICA, we want to strengthen frameworks and safeguards to support their livelihoods.”

UPSKILLING WITHOUT COST WORRIES

Mr. Tan managed to get nine bowling coaches together to participate in the EDS program, although not everyone is computer-savvy. “I explained to them the need to constantly upgrade ourselves and keep up with the trend of digital content creation as it can open up new opportunities for us,” the 34-year-old shared.

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