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Growth of the gig economy | New Straits Times

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IN October last year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the gig economy had been identified as a new source of economic growth and would be made part of the 12th Malaysia Plan.

The word “gig” used to be associated with musicians or performing artistes hired to play for specific events or short-term engagements. But this buzzword has trickled its way to almost any kind of employment, particularly on an ad hoc or temporary basis.

It concerns mainly freelancers, project-based workers, independent contractors as well as part-time hires. They are all part of a growing trend called the gig economy.

According to financial planning lecturer Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Fazli Sabri, people have been doing “gigs” for decades.

Mohamad Fazli, who is Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology deputy dean (Graduate Studies and Industry and Community Network) said: “Working part-time and freelancing have been around for ages. These jobs are becoming more pronounced due to the rise of digital platforms such as smartphones and the Internet.

“Technological advancements have paved the way for those who are interested in offering services through websites or mobile apps,” he said, adding that it is more popular among young people.

“There has been much debate on what comprises a gig economy and how it is different from freelancing. To put it simply, both terms are synonymous. It can also be referred to as a sharing or collaborative economy.

“While we are familiar with food delivery services, professionals are now starting to offer services like legal consultation, journalism and copywriting, among others, under what classifies as gig economy.”

Mohamad Fazli said the gig economy has benefited consumers as they are provided with an array of options and services to choose from.

Freelancing allows individuals to work for companies anywhere in the world and not limit their talent to geographical boundaries. PIC FROM https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/man

For large organisations, it increases flexibility and efficiency while lowering the cost of doing business.

“Gig workers enjoy flexibility, lucrative pay and the freedom to choose the type of work. No wonder people are turning away from desk jobs to be a part of the gig economy,” he said.

When done right, working on gigs come with the perks of independence, peace of mind and good pay.

Mohamad Fazli said that in the United States, gig workers are expected to make up around 40 per cent of its workforce by this year.

“In Malaysia, food delivery services are flourishing. To date, there are 13,000 Foodpanda and 10,000 Grab Food riders in the Klang Valley.

“There are people who undertake side jobs on top of full-time jobs to bolster their income or even to maximise productivity,” he said.

PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES

Freelance-hiring specialist and gig economy platform Workana allows companies to engage talented and qualified freelancers for project-based job opportunities worldwide.

The Latin company, which started in 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, recently set up its Southeast Asia headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

According to Workana co-founder Tomas O’Farrell, over 100,000 freelancers signed up on the platform since April last year.

Workana co-founder, Tomas O’Farrell

“Most talents are Malaysians, with the rest coming from across the region. We now have an excellent pool of talents comprising graphic designers, coders, writers, social media experts and marketing experts. This platform is a way of connecting companies with the talented people they are looking for, and reducing much of the friction of hiring remotely.

“Companies are also posting more jobs on our platform. Workana has over 30,000 job postings each month coming from all over the world.

“Our growth here in Malaysia is amazing. What makes it interesting is that Malaysian freelancers are now able to work for companies anywhere in the world and not limit their talent to geographical boundaries,” said O’Farrell.

He added that the workforce has changed in the last decade with Gen X and Gen Y being technology-savvy individuals who prefer to work independently.

“Experienced and professional freelancers cherish their freedom to work at their own pace and commit to projects with less supervision.

“Many companies, especially startup businesses, are looking for top talent. Employing a freelancer is an option that works for growth and return of investment (ROI).

“For example, if a company only needs a person for a limited period to complete a project, hiring a freelancer makes perfect sense.”

Technological advancements has paved the way for those who are interested in offering services which are found on websites or mobile apps.

O’Farrell added that Workana provides opportunities for its freelancers to develop their skills by inviting them to conferences and think-tank sessions.

However, he said, professional skills enhancement needs to be done on an individual basis.

“Since developing a skill is a learning process and needs time and commitment, this means freelancers who are motivated will need to enrol for courses as they deem fit.

“For example, a freelance social media expert who is also proficient in Adobe Photoshop and can use social media tools effectively will be highly sought after on the platform.

“In the end, the gig economy becomes an altogether wider topic. Given the popularity of remote working, technology advancement (emails, live chats, video calls, collaboration software) and mushrooming co-working spaces, hiring freelancers is something which is destined to become a big part of the human resources industry.

“It is definitely here to stay,” O’Farrell concluded.

PITFALLS

While the unemployed, students and fresh graduates struggling to land a first job may find the gig economy platform advantageous, there are rising concerns about worker welfare and a deteriorating safety net.

Employment issues from the gig economy are mainly on having financial security like Social Security Organisation and Employees Provident Fund savings.

Mohamad Fazli said: “Many gig workers are from the younger generation. They may not be fully aware of the importance of having Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings which provides retirement funds and benefits.

“They must be equipped with financial literacy or else they will be financially vulnerable.

“Besides EPF, full-time workers enjoy a certain amount of security in terms of consistent pay and health benefits.

“Those who are working gigs at the low-skill level have little room for career growth and development. There are no opportunities to climb up the ladder and secure promotions.

“Gig workers with higher education backgrounds must think of ways to move towards a professional level befitting their qualifications,’’ he added.

O’Farrell explained that freelancers face common challenges such as irregular workload and getting paid on time by different clients.

“To overcome this, we have a secure way of paying freelancers. We take advance payment from the companies and work as a mediator to ensure that payment is made to the freelancers once the jobs are completed.”



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Workers

CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

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The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Observers call on National Wages Council for more aggressive wage support, office to look after gig workers, Manpower News & Top Stories

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In September and October 1998, as the full impact of the Asian financial crisis on Singapore’s economy became more apparent, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened a second time that year to revise its annual wage guidelines.

Its original guidelines, issued in May, had called for wage restraint and non-wage cost-cutting measures, as the Trade and Industry Ministry forecast economic growth for the year of between 2.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

But as the crisis deteriorated, the growth forecast for the year was revised downwards in June to between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.

The NWC in November proposed that in addition to a 10 percentage point cut to employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions recommended by the Committee on Singapore’s Competitiveness, total wages for 1998 be cut by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, as compared with 1997.

This year, with Singapore headed for its worst recession since independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers suggested that the council consider calling for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the NWC will reconvene this year. The council made its annual wage guidelines in March this year.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) chief executive Mayank Parekh said that without the prospect of a near-term recovery of demand, there could be more job losses and wage cuts on the horizon.

“It is timely for the NWC to review its earlier recommendations and seek support for additional measures to safeguard jobs and enhance employability,” he said.

“More aggressive wage measures, higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments could be considered.”

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem suggested the council look at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended, as well as the need for funding to facilitate job redesign for future-ready jobs.

It could also propose the setting up of a tripartite office to help and protect gig workers, who tend to fall under the radar because they do not have employers, she said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the NWC should continue to push for wage increases for low-wage workers, even amid the pandemic.

“Instead of recommending a quantum wage increase, I would like NWC to set a long-term target of where wages of these vulnerable low-wage workers who are performing essential services should be at. This could then act as a guideline for the wage increases and the necessary productivity initiatives that must be embarked upon to make it sustainable,” he added.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

Aside from 1998, it also released revised recommendations in 2001, after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the council updated its guidelines to recommend – among other things – that companies work with unions and workers to manage costs, such as through wage freezes or wage cuts, to save jobs.

The NWC had in March this year considered whether to recommend reducing CPF contribution rates to cut wage costs.

But Permanent Secretary for Manpower Aubeck Kam had said then that as the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidy far exceeds the employer CPF contribution rates of up to 17 per cent, the Government did not feel that a cut to the rate was warranted.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that short of extending the JSS payouts for worst-hit industries, a temporary cut in employer CPF contribution rates could be an option the NWC considers.

But he cautioned that such a move would need to be weighed very carefully. “It would be a reduction in workers’ savings, on top of already widespread wage cuts.”

Amid reports of major retrenchment exercises in recent weeks, Mrs Teo also commented yesterday on the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the NTUC last month. It includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.

She said in her Facebook post that the Singapore National Employers Federation will consider the framework and discuss a mutually acceptable way forward with NTUC.

In the meantime, the Manpower Ministry will continue its work on the Fair Consideration Framework, she said, adding that there would be updates soon.

“Tripartite partners are aligned on one thing – the need to support our workers and businesses through the storm brought about by Covid-19. Much work ahead,” she said.



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Trudeau says feds will create EI-like benefit for gig, contract workers – Red Deer Advocate

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government plans to move out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system and provide parallel support for millions set to exhaust emergency pandemic aid who don’t have EI to fall back on.

The $80-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit is set to wind down over the coming weeks, with those who are EI-eligible to start drawing assistance that way.

Speaking this morning, Trudeau said many people who don’t qualify for the program, such as gig or contract workers, will gain access to a transitional, parallel benefit that is similar to EI.

It will also include access to training, and the ability to work more hours without having as steep a clawback in benefit payments, Trudeau said.

He said more details will be unveiled at a later date.

The most recent figures on the CERB show that as of July 26, the government had paid out $62.75 billion in benefits to 8.46 million unique applicants since its launch.

About half those costs have gone to EI-eligible workers, leaving millions who don’t pay into EI unable to access the program once the emergency benefit ends.

“No one will be left behind,” Trudeau promised.

The economy started to reawaken after severe lockdowns in March and April as Statistics Canada reported the gross domestic product grew by 4.5 per cent in May.

The average economist estimate was for a 3.5 per cent increase in gross domestic product for May, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The national data agency said rebounds in May were seen across multiple industries with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Retail trade registered a 16.4 per cent bump to mark its largest monthly increase since comparable readings began in 1961.

Motor vehicle and car sales contributed the most to the retail growth. Statistics Canada says the sector would have grown by 11.4 per cent had they been excluded from calculations.

In a preliminary estimate for June, the agency said the economy continued to pick up steam, with a five-per-cent increase for the month.

Despite the two months of growth after two months of negative readings, Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimate is that economic output contracted by 12 per cent in the second quarter compared to the first three months of 2020.

The June and second-quarter figures will be finalized late next month.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said in a note that a 12 per cent drop in the second quarter would be the largest decline ever by a long shot, even if such a decline is expected.

The Bank of Canada’s most recent economic outlook expected the second quarter of 2020 to be worse than the first, estimating a three-month drop in GDP of 14.6 per cent.

Overall, the central bank expected an economic contraction of 7.8 per cent this year, warning that after an immediate turnaround as restrictions eased, a recovery would be long and bumpy with some businesses and jobs not surviving the downturn.

Statistics Canada says economic activity still remained 15 per cent below pre-pandemic level despite the gains over May as business activity was slowly allowed to resume.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

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