By Janice Lim
03 September, 2019
SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) have backed a new law that better protect injured workers, but a handful of them are saying that there is still a lack of protection for those who are self-employed.
Self-employed persons are not covered by the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica) whether now or under the amended law, because they are considered to be under a contract of service with an employer. Changes to the Act, which include allowing for injured employees to get faster and higher insurance payouts, were passed on Tuesday (Sept 3) in Parliament. The changes will take effect September next year.
Bringing up the issue of self-employed workers, Nominated MP Arasu Duraisamy asked: “What recourse do these employees then have in the event of injury sustained in the course of their employment?”
He estimated that there are more than 200,000 workers who are self-employed and the number would only keep increasing as the gig economy becomes more prevalent.
The rise of businesses such as ride-hailing and food delivery services have led to a growing number of freelance workers who do not receive the same protection and benefits — such as overtime pay and insurance coverage — as those under regular employment contracts.
Nominated MP Walter Theseira said that the lack of regulatory protection for self-employed workers would mean that they are cheaper to hire, and this drives employers to promote self-employment arrangements to avoid costs.
This “creates a substantial difference in the effective price of labour for the same type of task”, he added.
“The self-employed are really going to be underpriced in the market; their wages will not reflect the full risks of the job. The self-employed, and their families, will end up bearing the real costs if they suffer injuries in the course of work.”
The Nominated MPs suggested ways to plug the gap, such as getting market platforms or governmental procuring entities such as schools to provide such coverage.
Mr Arasu said that when governmental procuring entities take the lead, it will help “set the tone and shape responsible procurement practices, where work injury insurance protection is a norm for responsible outsourcing”.
In response to their concerns, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said that it may be “too onerous” to mandate insurance for all self-employed workers.
First, many of them — insurance and property agents, for instance — do not face significant injury risks.
Second, self-employed workers devote different amounts of time towards their work and people who engage their services do not have control over their work conditions and working hours.
In addition, many of these workers have contracts with several parties, instead of just a one-to-one work arrangement as it is for fulltime employees.
Mr Zaqy said that it is thus not fair for so many parties to compensate or buy insurance for the self-employed person they engage.
“It’s difficult to tell at which point in time you are working for which (business),” he added.
Instead, the Manpower Ministry encourages self-employed workers to buy prolonged medical leave insurance and personal accident insurance to protect themselves.
[Valid points. So how about all "employers/employing parties" incorporate an insurance component in their contract/payment so the self-employed will be reimbursed for the insurance on a pro-rated basis?]
‘NEWFOUND INTEREST’ IN WORK INJURY ISSUES
During the debate over the proposed changes to the law, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh brought up several issues related to workplace injuries and highlighted an incident concerning a resident in Aljunied under his ward. The resident was denied compensation at first because he filed his work injury claim more than a year after the accident happened.
Mr Zaqy then said pointedly that he “welcomed” WP’s “newfound interest” in work injury compensation issues, but noted that the party “has not so far raised any questions concerning the compensation of employees for work injury during this term of Parliament”.
“It would have been nice to hear from the Workers’ Party when we had the public consultation for Wica, but it’s never too late to start,” he added.
In retort, Mr Singh said that Mr Zaqy’s remarks made it seem like work injury compensation is “a subject that the Workers’ Party has suddenly developed some sort of interest (in)” and went on to defend his party’s track record in Parliament.
“In 2017, there was a question filed by members and Ms Sylvia Lim had supplementary questions for the minister. So that’s just for the record,” Mr Singh said.
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