MP Leon Perera

Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Manpower (a) among private hire car drivers and food delivery riders, what are their (i) mean and median employment duration and (ii) numbers according to age group; (b) whether the Ministry tracks the number and percentage of these riders who have moved on to permanent employment in other industries and, if so, what are these numbers in each of the past five years; and (c) whether the Ministry can provide customised career transition programmes for these riders to help them successfully find alternative employment.

Dr Koh Poh Koon: Sir, platform workers face unique conditions at work. They are subject to management control and are not able to set their own fees or remuneration, unlike the typical freelancers that we know. However, compared to employees, they receive lower job protections.

To address this, the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers was convened in September last year to look into three key areas of concern, namely: enhancing housing and retirement adequacy, providing financial protection in the event of work injury and strengthening representation.

Since it was convened, the Committee has actively engaged stakeholders through dialogues as well as a public consultation paper. To date, we have reached out to more than 20,000 platform workers and received about 1,200 submissions from them. To Mr Mohd Fahmi’s question, more than half of these submissions touched on CPF contributions and of which, 55% indicated support for the idea of mandatory CPF contributions to platform workers. Housing was the most commonly cited reason for wanting CPF contributions, followed by retirement. This is not surprising, as platform workers today only make CPF contributions to their MediSave Accounts for their healthcare needs. In the coming months, we will continue with our engagement efforts, and encourage all stakeholders, including platform workers, to share their views.

The Committee is also aware that other surveys on platform work were commissioned and published recently; some of which were commissioned by the platform companies. These surveys vary in methodology and some have much smaller number of respondents. Some of these surveys also did not capture the management controls and challenges that the platform workers face. An independent ethnographic study by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on delivery riders found that riders who are keen to earn an income of more than $4,000 a month would likely need to work more than 10 hours a day, for six to seven days a week, cycling at least 60 kilometres to 70 kilometres a day and not reject any assigned orders. They need to maintain long and disciplined hours at work and must certainly be physically fit. There is significant physical and mental stress imposed on these workers.

While the surveys differ in their emphasis and findings, the one consistent feedback they note is that platform workers do experience greater uncertainty and would appreciate some aspects of what employees enjoy, such as the benefit of CPF contributions and work injury compensation. 

Ms Yeo Wan Ling asked about how mandatory CPF contributions for platform workers could be implemented. Without prejudging the outcome of the Committee’s deliberation, if this is implemented, we will develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure compliance. 

Today, platform workers already make mandatory CPF contributions out of their own earnings, although at a lower level of contribution compared to an employee. The Committee is mindful that if mandatory CPF contribution for platform workers is introduced, platform companies will also have to start making contributions. While this will increase their business costs, it is no worse off than any other company employing workers in a similar sector, such as in logistics and transport. Besides, platform companies already contribute CPF for their management executives and administrative staff today, a point which many of these riders whom I engage with, make as well. They ask a question, as the ones who are bringing in revenue for the companies, risking themselves on the roads, why are they not given some of these basic things that employees working for the companies in the office actually also enjoy.

But at the same time, the Committee is also aware that some platform workers are concerned about the impact on their take-home earnings. This somehow also suggests that platform workers are not as well-paid as some recent surveys have tried to portray.

Mr Leon Perera and Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked about the profile and longer-term career prospects of platform workers. In 2021, the majority of those who depended on platform work as their main job were older residents aged 50 and over, although delivery workers tended to be slightly younger, with the majority aged below 40. This is not surprising, as riders have to maintain a certain level of physical fitness and toil for many hours a day covering long distances in order to keep their earning levels high, as I had earlier described. The majority, or around 80%, of those whose main job is a platform worker view it as their preferred job. In 2021, 8% of those who depended on platform work as their main job switched to work primarily as an employee – a slight increase from the 5% to 6% in recent years.

We will continue to support platform workers to actively plan their careers and strengthen their employability, while respecting the preference of many to continue in platform work. For those looking for employment opportunities, Workforce Singapore and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute offer career matching services including career coaching, employability workshops and job fairs. The Workfare Skills Support Scheme and SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package are also available to them.

Sir, at the height of the pandemic and the circuit breaker, these delivery riders helped maintain our quality of life by risking themselves to meet our needs. Singaporeans have called for more to be done for this group of precarious workers. These are often the forgotten heroes during the pandemic.

So, even as we gradually ease into endemic phase of our fight against COVID-19, let us not forget the needs of this group of precarious workers. The Committee’s work is still ongoing. As it continues to consult widely and facilitate deeper discussions, we will take in the feedback from platform workers and platform companies. The Committee aims to provide practicable and sustainable recommendations and is considering an appropriate phase-in period to allow the industry to adjust.

Mr Speaker: Mr Leon Perera.

Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): I thank the Senior Minister of State for his answer. Two supplementary questions. Regarding the figure given of 8% who have transitioned to permanent employment, would the Senior Minister of State have any data in the demographic profile of those who moved out of platform work into permanent employment of some sort or other? Are they the older ones or are they the younger ones?

Secondly, given the developments in technology and also the fact that this kind of work that the platform workers do may be harder for older people to do, physically, there is a long-term employability concern that the Senior Minister of State alluded to. Would the Government consider, going forward, engaging, more proactive communications to these platform workers, make them aware of these challenges and to stimulate them to think more about their long-term career prospects in other industries? There is drone delivery, for example, that is displacing some of these jobs already in some cities.

   Dr Koh Poh Koon: Sir, the Member rightly pointed out some of the concerns that the Committee is deliberating on. These are the concerns of some of the workers themselves: the fear of autonomous vehicles replacing their jobs and also, for the riders at least, it being such a physically demanding career, there is a question of how they can sustain this over a long period of time and make it a lifelong career. Also, the risk of being injured any day and once you cannot physically subject yourself to that kind of toil anymore, the income would be impacted.

On the other hand, the workers do value the flexibility and autonomy, to some extent, that they have. It is also a job with low barriers to entry and allows them quick access to ready cash to tide over a period of need. So, there are pros and cons. And the Committee would continue to consult and engage our stakeholders.

In terms of encouraging the workers to then look at a career transition, this is something that we have already put in place – some measures and schemes to support them. Ultimately, it is also helping them to raise their awareness of what would make a sustainable career and help them to acquire the skills that are necessary to transit into a sector that may be of interest to them. Skills upgrading is still core to the whole endeavour.

But I think this is a complex issue. The demographics are quite widespread. Different segments of people, different needs. So, I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all strategy that will cater to all and appeal to all of them. I think we need to look at this from a multi-pronged perspective. Therefore, in answer to the first question posed, on what is the demographics of the 8% who may have made the transition, I do not have the full data. My sense is that it is a very disparate group: some could be younger; some could be older; some could be more educated; some, because of their physical conditions, realise they need to transit to something that is less physically demanding. I think it is a broad spectrum, the point being that we need many different things to meet the different needs of different groups of people. It is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution, nor a fixed archetype.

Ministry of Manpower
5 April 2022


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