Without a doubt, the COVID-19 situation, the ensuing cancellation of events and closure of non-essential services has had significant repercussions on freelancers and self-employed persons (SEP) in Singapore. Freelance wedding photographers, private tutors, private hire car drivers, etc. are all facing challenges.
As such, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay, has brought to light the legal rights for freelancers and SEPs to take note of in a blog post, summed up below.
1. Cancellation of projects and/or events due to COVID-19
Several companies have attempted to rely on COVID-19 as a force majeure event, as a basis for cancelling or terminating existing contracts. In such a situation, parties will need to refer to their contract for the provision of a “Force Majeure Clause”.
A typical “Force Majeure Clause” provides for the suspension or release of parties’ contractual obligations upon the occurrence of certain event(s) which are out of parties’ reasonable control, where such events prevent parties from performing their contractual obligations. Common examples of Force Majeure Events include acts of God, pandemics, terrorism, riots and/or acts of governments.
In the absence of a Force Majeure Clause, parties may rely on the doctrine of “frustration”, under which both parties are automatically discharged from their contract by operation of law when, without the default of either party, a supervening event occurs rendering their contractual obligation radically different from what was agreed upon. This doctrine is only applied in exceptional circumstances.
In the interests of saving time and costs, ASG Tay advises involved parties to consider mediation and/or direct negotiations with the aim of arriving at mutually acceptable solutions - such as postponing the said events, exploring the possibility of conducting them virtually, or extending additional credits to be used in future.
2. How the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act affects freelancers
The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act provides temporary relief for six months for parties who are unable to fulfil their contractual obligations, which inability must be caused by the COVID-19 situation. The Act only applies to certain classes of contracts. It covers event or tourism-related contracts, entered into before 25 March 2020, with the event and/or tour scheduled to be held on or after 1 February 2020.
Under this Act, the other party will not be allowed to commence legal proceedings for non-performance of the contract, impose cancellation fees and/or automatically forfeit deposits for event- and/or tourism-related contracts.
To claim the relief under this Act, the party unable to perform its obligations should first confirm they are eligible for relief, and thereafter, serve a Notification for Relief to the other party. If accepted, the reliefs will apply and the parties to the contract are then prohibited from taking legal action during the period of relief.
3. Know the schemes available for freelancers and SEPs
For many freelancers who have had their livelihoods disrupted and suffered a dip in income this period, ASG Tay encourages tapping into the following schemes:
a. Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), under which eligible Singaporean SEPs will receive three quarterly cash payouts of S$3,000 each in May, July and October 2020. For those who do not qualify, or who marginally missed one of the criteria, may submit an application to NTUC for consideration.
b. NTUC Training Fund for SEPs, which aims to help freelancers earn as they train. SEPs will be paid an allowance, while attending training courses to pick up new skills.
c. NTUC Care Fund (COVID-19) which provides a one-off cash relief of up to S$300 for existing and new NTUC union members experiencing hardship.
Looking ahead, he encouraged freelancers and SEPs to look for alternatives and pick up new skills in the process. “While COVID-19 has brought about with it a new normal and with it, its own set of challenges, it has also brought about opportunities. With the assistance that the Government has rolled out, there must be greater impetus for all to take advantage of these schemes and support, to deepen your skills, learn new skills and even multi-skill.”
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