What exactly is a gig worker? And what are his/her entitlements in the eyes of the law?
Singapore’s manpower minister Lim Swee Say last year shared this definition: “OECD and several international studies commonly refer to workers in the gig economy as workers on the platform economy”.
“Gig workers can be employees or freelancers,” he said. If the worker is employed on a short-term contract, he/she is still an employee protected by labour law. However, gig freelancers are considered self-employed in Singapore.
The degree of separation is thus very slight, and as the gig economy continues to grow globally, questions about workers’ legal entitlements will become commonplace.
Take the US for instance, where lawsuits regarding workers’ rights have been filed against “gig economy” companies.
Uber, for one, has been hit with dozens of lawsuits in recent years with its drivers claiming themselves as employees. The drivers said they were thus entitled to minimum wage, overtime compensation and other legal privileges afforded to employees and not contractors.
However, a US judge in Philadelphia ruled in favour of Uber, saying that UberBLACK’s limousine drivers are independent contractors and not the company’s employees under federal law.
The ruling is the first of its kind for the ride-hailing company, reported Reuters.
“Uber does not exert enough control over drivers for its limo service, UberBLACK, to be considered their employer under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act,” the district judge said.
“The drivers work when they want to and are free to nap, run personal errands, or smoke cigarettes in between rides.”
Another company, Grubhub Inc, faced similar cases two months earlier. The federal judge who presided over the case had also ruled that food delivery workers were not the company’s employees.
Grubhub’s case was the first “gig economy case” to go to trial in US.
Acknowledging the growing impact of the gig economy, the Singapore government set up a tripartite workgroup to help address the challenges associated with it.
Under the workgroup’s recommendations, employers are encouraged to adopt fair practices when hiring gig workers. For example, to use written contracts to minimise any disputes between the two parties.
But such practices are considered voluntary and not binding under MOM’s Employment Act.
As gig workers become a mainstay in Singapore’s labour landscape, are employers prepared to meet the growing needs of the changing workforce?