Wednesday January 1st 2020

The self-employment rate in Singapore as of 2018 was 14.6% [1].

There’s been more efforts in recent times to understand the steadily growing community of Independent Doers in Singapore, as more Singaporeans are choosing to take up independent work.

For instance, the Tripartite Workgroup on Self-Employed Persons was formed by the government in 2017 to look into challenges faced by the self-employed [2] through a series of public consultations [3]. The Infocomm Media Development Authority also conducted a study on media freelancers in Singapore to identify areas that could be improved to help media freelancers advance their careers [4]. To better support freelancers in the arts industry, the National Arts Council has created a dedicated platform providing resources related to financial planning, legal services, professional development, and more.

These government initiatives are certainly timely, and they represent a good start towards exploring new systems to help Independent Doers in various spheres of the economy. While we are moving in the right direction in recognising that more support is needed for Independent Doers, a deeper understanding and more targeted solutions would help to truly address their needs.

Independent Doers in Singapore like elsewhere in the world face many practical challenges in their journey. They are responsible for every aspect of their careers, and that means having to manage a business on top of doing what they love. 

Some essential areas which they would have to look into include office spaces, business solutions (e.g. financial management, data, CRM), healthcare, legal issues (e.g. IP rights, contracts) and many more. They most often face significantly higher costs when purchasing solutions such as insurance, healthcare, mobile, or software plans. 

Many would also find these issues complex and difficult to understand, or simply do not have the time to seek out information or advice. All in all, being an Independent Doer could feel very much like a solitary journey. 

Let's take a look at some common issues faced by Independent Doers by using Singapore as an example:

  • Healthcare and retirement
    It has been observed that Independent Doers in Singapore lack healthcare and retirement savings. Independent work could be unstable at times, especially when the monthly incomes of Independent Doers vary greatly depending on the number of projects he/she is involved in. One in four Singaporeans who are self-employed have not been contributing to their Medisave accounts, and hence are saving less for healthcare. To address this, a “contribute-as-you-earn” model, whereby independent workers will have small contributions paid to their MediSave accounts when they provide services to the government, will be rolled out beginning from 2020.

  • Loss of income due to illness or injury
    Prolonged illness or injuries sustained during work could seriously jeopardise the career and livelihood of Independent Doers. Many Independent Doers in Singapore are not covered by insurance plans that provide protection against loss of income. 

  • Payment-related disputes 
    Independent Doers commonly face payment-related disputes, which arise out of the lack of proper, written contracts. Their terms of services may not be properly documented, and this could pose a challenge when disputes arise. To address this, the government has established a set of guidelines on best practices for engaging freelance services under the Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons. 

    While there have been positive steps taken to start identifying and addressing some of these issues, we still need to take a step back and further examine some inherent issues based on how Independent Doers have traditionally been viewed by governments and solution providers.


[1] Figure taken from The World Bank, 2018. Source: International Labour Organization, ILOSTAT database. 

[2] Self-employed is defined by the Singapore government as “Those who operate their own business without hiring any employees, more formally known as “own account workers”."

[3] Report available here:

[4] Report available here:

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