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Freelance doesn't mean free lunch

2 months ago / ntuc / working girl / worklifesg

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Hi guys!


Some of you might have noticed that I have been frequenting quite a few restaurants and cafes lately (check out this STRAWBERRY POCKY popsicle?!) on Insta in the name of work - well, it's true. And no, I do not mean that I-go-and-eat-to-post-chio-photos kinda work but remember I had previously mentioned that we started a digital content agency of sorts? More details about it to come (sorry, I was so busy firming things up.. we JUST got our namecards printed!) and our biggest job to date involves producing A LOT (and I really mean a frickin' lot) of images and videos for our client's social media accounts so it basically translates to spending all our afternoons at restaurants and bars since they are in the F&B line.

We have also been working with several freelancers, mostly photographers, videographers, copywriters and graphic designers and in between smoke coffee breaks, they often lament about their clients from hell. Mostly about budget (some ridiculous people expect to pay merely $50 for one video), being pressured to reply emails immediately (then who's filming your video?) and basically being treated very unprofessionally by ironically, the very professional clients sitting in the office.

Just because the world's our office doesn't make us any less professional, ok?

Also, from dealing with all these freelancers some of whom can be VERY young...... like 19 years kind of young, it also made me realise that kids these days (ya, I auntie already) are often not after the typical 9-to-5 executive job that we (or maybe just me?) used to covet.

Most of them can be photographers/ videographers who work with several agencies but at the same time, also sell property or drive Uber since it's quite profitable - I have an ex-student who made more than $3,500 after a month of vacation Uber-driving. Certainly pays better than distributing flyers or being a waitress huh.

I was introduced to Mark Koh the other day. You might find this face familiar cause he's been in the press quite a bit for being "the ultimate freelancer".... wanna play guess the number?

He did 116 freelance jobs in a year.

These part-time jobs and temp assignments ranged from motivational speaking, events organising to even chicken-chopping (yes, you read that right) at a chicken rice stall and pizza delivery boy.

You must be thinking that he is perhaps not very well educated or a struggling actor waiting for his big break (so Hollywood lol) but on the contrary, Mark has an MBA.

Then why these jobs?

Simply because he can.

To him, life is too short to be doing the same thing day in and out. An avid foodie and traveller with an insatiable desire to learn and try new things, this lifestyle allows him to take on jobs across various industries while working only 40 hours a week.

Also, did I mention that Mark is in his 30s? If someone (especially a married man!) in this age group can think that the typical stable, office job is not for him, what more the strawberry generation of tomorrow? We will definitely see a paradigm shift in the type of jobs people want and the numbers are showing it. The Freelancers and Self-employed or FSE segment is growing rapidly in Singapore and the latest numbers show there are over 200,000 FSEs in Singapore alone.

This prompted Mark to start Temploy. With a mission to “disrupt the traditional office-hour model of work and empower candidates to work closer to their ideal lifestyle and convenience”, the business was first conceptualised with an intention to find volunteers for disaster relief. Upon deployment, they found that the utility of matching jobs to the exact hour when candidates are available, results in significantly higher engagement and productivity.

So I guess you can say that Mark and I are quite same same but different and we hit it off quite immediately.

(Fun fact, we both speak/ understand the SAME 5 languages - English, Bahasa Indonesia, Mandarin, German and Thai - what are the odds?!)

And one of those things we talked about is how the job landscape in Singapore has changed so much in the last 10 years and how freelancers have their own unique set of challenges, and need to be protected too.

The FSE Unit at NTUC helmed by Ang Hin Kee was set up in 2014 with the strong belief that if the labour movement doesn’t disrupt and evolve, it will only stick to its traditional model of helping salaried workers. But of course,the freelancers segment is very fragmented - like hello, my friend Mark over here can be wearing a suit and giving diplomatic talks one morning and then selling Xbox at Comex the very same afternoon. I'm not making this up btw, you can really see him at Comex next week) - and the first step is to gather everyone in the same industry or trade together. Such as U Creative for creative professionals and the Private Hire Vehicles Association (PHVA) launched earlier this year to cater to the Grab/Uber drivers.

(By the way, I heard that there is a new app called SwiftBack where if you're very chio / bother to put makeup and upload a good-looking display picture, your chances of getting a ride goes up like, tenfold lol.)

Anyway, back to the FSE Unit.

The next phase will then be to reach out to other freelancers and here's the exciting part...

If you are a freelancer yourself (aspiring blogger/ influencer wannabe counted also lol), then you might want to check out the Fair for Freelancers happening on 7 Sep (Wed) at Red Dot Museum.

I will be there so come and say Hi to me leh!

And also, as part of the Unusual Labour Movement movement (omg get it?!) announced earlier this year, the NTUC will be finding new ways to challenge the traditional union model and introduce Pay-Per-Use for these new worker segments.


Now, if you didn't already know about the NTUC membership, basically at $9 a month, you get to enjoy a multitude of benefits BEYOND discounts at FairPrice lol. Perks include discounts at various merchants such as Pizza Hut, Sentosa and even Tigerair, legal talks & clinics, masterclasses and networking sessions and even career coaching at e2i.

But with the way so much information is available online and with credit card privileges, many of us from the "younger generation" may not need the full suite of membership benefits (or maybe just too niao to pay the annual fee haha). And this is where the Pay-Per-Use model for these new worker types comes in.

As freelancers don’t work in companies, so they cannot be unionised so to speak. But even if they may not be union members but they still need services. So if there are other operating models where freelancers’ needs can be served, they can still benefit from the programmes under the NTUC umbrella. In this sense, the traditional ‘pay per month’ model for union members does not work for freelancers. But it’s possible that NTUC allows the freelancers access to selected services such as the Future Leaders Summit seminars and mentorship programmes on a ‘pay per use’ basis.

So in short, if you're a makeup artist, writer, photographer, stuntman and all the new coolAF occupations people have these days to mean one-man-show freelancer, I look forward to seeing you at the fair!

(I promise to put makeup, don't worry lol.)

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