Singapore minister on why gig workers should not be lagging behind

A GrabFood deliver rider rides across the Jubilee Bridge at Merlion Park on July 2, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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SINGAPORE — Gig workers in Singapore face “vulnerabilities” that need to be addressed, said the country’s manpower senior minister. 

Speaking to “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday, Koh Poh Koon said the pandemic has shown that platform workers in the city state perform a “useful service” and they’re “here to stay” for the foreseeable future.

“Over time, if they undertake this as a longer term career, they [should not be] lagging behind the rest of the population in terms of their longer term needs,” he said. Areas that need to be considered include retirement adequacy, injury compensation and housing, he added.

His comments come after the Singapore government accepted a set of recommendations by a tripartite workgroup to make sure that platform workers are better represented.

This means that such workers will be able to “gain some legal mandate” and negotiate on equal footing with platform companies, Koh added. 

Such workers typically work for ride-hailing or food delivery companies such as Grab, GoJek and Foodpanda.

According to Singapore’s ministry of manpower, there are 88,400 platform workers in the country, as of 2022. 

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A recent DBS study showed that gig workers were found to be the most financially stretched group in Singapore, with savings declining year-on-year to an “unhealthy range.”

The expense-to-income ratio of gig workers was 112% in May — “significantly higher” than the median customer’s 57%, DBS said.

It is however “not meaningful” to discuss the possibility of a minimum wage for gig workers as they are free to work as much or as little as they want, Koh pointed out. 

“What’s important is to preserve flexibility that both the workers and the platform companies desire. And that’s a very key principle in the discussions.” 

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The set of recommendations include the process of obtaining a mandate for representation, the scope of negotiations and formalizing agreements, and how disagreements between representative bodies and platform companies can be resolved. 

“The fact that we came up with this series of recommendations is itself proof that tripartism is working,” Koh added. 

“As technology changes, platform companies change their business models, there is a dialogue platform for both parties to engage [in] conversation … It has to be win-win.”  

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