Workplace Injury Compensation (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Chen Show Mao

(Delivered on 3 September 2019)

Mr Speaker,

I support the extension of WICA coverage to a larger group of workers as proposed by the bill and urge continuing efforts by the Ministry to afford comparable protection to the more vulnerable workers currently excluded from WICA coverage because they are classified as self employed persons, namely such workers in higher-risk occupations and those who earn lower income, and thereby are less able to weather the storm of work injury.

Self employed persons in this context are typically defined as workers for their own account. WICA coverage is available to workers employed under a contract of service, but not workers for their own account, whatever their occupation or income. The idea is that in some very important sense, self employed persons as independent contractors can better take care of themselves and their work. For example, it is widely accepted that many delivery riders are contractors and not employees because

“they may choose their own work arrangements such as riding their own vehicles and managing their own working hours.“

This is a fundamental and long-standing distinction traceable to the English common law, and for good reason. I’d like to urge, however, that we be more ready in our own circumstances to reexamine critically the assumptions underlying this distinction, especially where lower-income workers in higher-risk occupations are concerned.

The bargaining powers of the contracting parties are often unequal. Let us continue to study how these more vulnerable workers for their own account are differently situated in meaningful ways from others employed under, say, a part-time or short-term contract of service. Do these differences really represent a greater ability on the workers’ part to take care of themselves and their work that warrant the contractors/employers doing significantly less for them? Do they warrant exclusion from WICA coverage? How many hours of work and at what time of day or week are in effect readily available for the worker to choose from, and on what notice? How much of a capital investment does an e-scooter for food delivery represent, for example.

Also, Sir, the Tripartite Workgroup on Self Employed Persons notes that the majority of self employed persons in Singapore work in desk-bound non-manual jobs where the risk of injury is low. And for the smaller group of self-employed-persons engaged in higher-risk occupations, it recommends that the Government promote the adoption of private insurance in higher-risk occupations through licensing controls, or tapping on the Government’s role as a service-buyer, where possible. Sir, I look forward to reports in time from the Ministry on the progress that it will have made in this area.

Thank you.