July 13, 2023
SINGAPORE – Deliverymen, cabbies and ride-hailing drivers who use platforms such as Grab, Foodpanda and Lalamove for jobs are set to gain more bargaining power over issues such as earnings and their welfare.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday said the Government has accepted recommendations from a tripartite workgroup that will pave the way for representative bodies to champion platform workers’ interests under a new legislative framework, which will be implemented from the second half of 2024.
This means that the more than 88,000 platform workers here can soon negotiate for better working conditions as a group, through representative bodies that are legally empowered and act almost like trade unions.
Like unions, these bodies will be able to sign legally binding collective agreements with platform operators on behalf of workers, to ensure accountability from the companies.
There will also be a formal process to resolve collective disputes, with MOM being the first port of call for conciliation before the matter is brought before the Industrial Arbitration Court.
During a dialogue with about 120 workers at the Lifelong Learning Institute on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon said the issue of platform worker representation is complex as companies have different operating models while workers have different priorities.
The workgroup’s recommendations create a win-win framework for both platform operators and workers while taking into consideration the unique features of platform work, especially flexibility, he added.
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said the new framework, when implemented, paves the way for the labour movement and its affiliated associations to officially represent platform workers.
NTUC noted that platform workers cannot form unions under existing laws as they are not recognised as employees, and hence face challenges in resolving disputes and during negotiations.
While the National Taxi Association, National Private Hire Vehicles Association and National Delivery Champions Association have been advancing the interests of platform workers, the associations are limited by the current lack of process for them to get a recognised mandate from the workers they want to represent.
The recommendations for the new framework were mooted by a tripartite workgroup formed in August 2022 to look into the issue of platform worker representation.
It comes on the heels of other protections that the Government is working to implement for platform workers, including requiring Central Provident Fund contributions for those under 30 and standardising work injury compensation insurance.
The workgroup – comprising representatives from MOM, NTUC, the Singapore National Employers Federation and platform operators – drew heavily from how trade unions in Singapore currently operate, noting that the existing rules of engagement between unions and employers have worked well in preserving industrial harmony here.
In a 33-page report submitted to MOM on Tuesday, the workgroup said this harmony is why the existing framework for employee representation is a good reference point for the platform sector, which has no defined rules for industrial relations as it is still relatively new.
The lack of a process for associations like the NTA to obtain a mandate from workers is “an obstacle to moving the relationship between the associations and platform operators beyond an informal dialogue”, it said.
To address this, it recommended that platform worker representative bodies obtain a mandate either by getting direct recognition from a platform operator, or by securing majority consent from eligible workers through a secret ballot.
This is consistent with how regular employee unions here obtain their mandates, and common practice in other countries as well.
The workgroup suggested several adaptations to account for the differences between platform work and regular employment.
For example, the fact that platform workers are not bound by a fixed set of working hours or tied to a particular workplace makes it more challenging to organise a mass of such workers.
Hence, the workgroup recommended that MOM should conduct a secret ballot electronically for platform workers, if needed, to maximise access. This is unlike secret ballots for employees, which are often conducted physically at their workplace.
The dispersed and transient nature of platform workers is also why the workgroup recommended that there be a quorum of at least 20 per cent of all eligible voters at a secret ballot for it to be valid.
This means that if 1,000 platform workers were eligible to vote in a secret ballot, at least 200 of them must have voted for it to be valid. If more than half of the 200 voted in support of representation, the association in question would get the required mandate.
On the scope of negotiations, the workgroup recommended that platform worker representative bodies and operators be given the flexibility to determine this, as long as both parties agree.
While any matter can be raised, negotiations should be guided by a set of common principles to preserve a collaborative spirit, the workgroup added. For instance, platform operators should be able to explain their policies to help workers make informed decisions, but they are not required to divulge proprietary information.
Meanwhile, some aspects of the new representation framework still need to be ironed out.
For instance, it will be up to MOM to decide how to approach issues related to the registration of platform worker representative bodies, the process for resolving individual worker grievances and regulations around industrial action – areas the workgroup did not cover.
Legislation will also need to be tabled and passed in Parliament.
The workgroup said this new framework may also need to be reviewed in future to stay relevant as the platform economy continues to grow and evolve.
“It is our hope that future reviews will continue to be based on a collaborative, constructive, problem-solving approach,” it added.