Every time you read about the gig economy in the local news, you get the feeling that freelancers and gig workers are descending upon Singapore in a swarm, leaving destruction in their wake, refusing to submit to a desk job like any good Singaporean should, and becoming the potential victim of problems like lack of CPF savings and income instability that taxpayers will have to bail them out of.
Before you demonise gig workers further, it’s time to acknowledge that the burgeoning gig economy does present many benefits that Singapore society as whole can reap, such as the following.
1. The gig economy offers Singaporeans a better chance at flexibility and work-life balance
The unstoppable rise of the number of freelancers in Singapore has been fuelled in large part by a desire for work-life balance and flexibility that traditional jobs have failed to provide.
Given the very long hours worked in Singapore compared to almost anywhere else in the world, it’s no surprise that lack of work-life balance has been blamed for the low birth rate, which has huge implications for Singapore’s future.
Poor work-life balance is also behind Singapore workers’ overwhelming unhappiness, which undoubtedly has an impact on productivity levels, quality of work and more.
The rise of freelancing and the gig economy gives more Singaporeans the option of flexibility and work-life balance, which could encourage them to have more kids or just be less miserable.
In particular, mothers who wish to re-enter the workforce but find themselves discriminated against by employers or pressured to pull 12-hour work days might find gig work a welcome option.
2. Gig work can boost job and retirement security for some
The government has been moaning about how gig workers have no CPF savings and how there’s going to be an apocalypse of people who won’t have enough money to retire a few decades from now.
But gig work can actually boost job and retirement security for some members of the population.
Those who are working in full-time jobs can turn to the gig economy to boost their income, whether by freelancing, driving for Grab/Uber, looking after pets on Pawshake or moonlighting as private tutors. Retrenchment, which is always lurking around the corner when one reaches a certain age, does not need to be a death sentence for one’s bank account.
Gig work can also be an option for the retired or semi-retired who wish to earn a bit of cash without committing to the pressure of full-time work.
Finally, as there are no unemployment benefits in Singapore, the newly-retrenched can turn to gig work such as private car hire driving to replace their lost incomes until they find a new job. This means less demand on government reserves to look after the jobless or newly-jobless.
What’s more, the lack of CPF is a blow only to those who don’t know how to manage their money and need a nanny state to step in and save that money for them. It shouldn’t be used as a blanket argument to tar everyone in the gig economy with the same brush.
While there are some gig workers living hand-to-mouth, there are many who are earning more than they would be able to in traditional employment, especially in the creative fields.
3. Employers may be forced to improve work conditions
While the majority of working Singaporeans right now are salaried employees, a few years down the road employers might find it more and more difficult to hire full-time employees in certain sectors, especially those that are relatively underpaid when compared to their freelance cousins.
Gig work gives a certain group of people the option of working for themselves rather than accepting low pay and unreasonable working hours in employment.
This is particularly pertinent in creative industries and PR, where excruciatingly long hours can be accompanied nonetheless by low pay, and where freelance work can be much more lucrative.
Eventually, in order to retain talent, employers may be forced to re-examine the workload they place on employees, or resign themselves to relying on freelance talent, which gets more expensive the heavier the workload.
4. Businesses can get the skills they need, when they need them
Many employees complain that they spend their most of their work day doing useless busy-work such as admin, and not the actual job for which they were hired.
For businesses, this is an inefficient use of talent. If there is not enough “real” work to go around, businesses might be better off simply hiring freelancers to do the necessary work, and then have cheaper admin staff around to do the rest.
For workers as well, this can only be a good thing, as they will be able to advance their skills in their chosen areas without getting bogged down by worthless tasks.
What other benefits do you think the gig economy can bring to Singapore? Share your views in the comments!