Employers urged to meet new standards when hiring media freelancers [TODAY Online]

IMDA is setting the standards as a criteria for media grants and funding for Public Service Broadcast content.

TODAY Online

Singaporeans crossing the road

Voluntary guidelines to protect freelancers in the media industry were launched on Wednesday (Nov 29), paving the way for companies to offer such workers written contracts, timely payment and insurance coverage.

While the guidelines are not compulsory, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is trying to push employers to adopt them, by setting these as a criteria for media grants, as well as funding for Public Service Broadcast content.

Mr Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State (Communications and Information), said at the Asia TV Forum and Market on Wednesday that from April next year, companies must abide by the Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers to qualify for such funding.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and IMDA are also committed to adopting the standard and putting in place the necessary processes. The aim is to “encourage fair and progressive workplaces that better support media freelancers”, the IMDA said.

To date, 11 companies and associations have adopted these conditions. Among them are Mediacorp, Weiyu Films, and the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents. The Association of Independent Producers (Singapore) will come on board by April next year.

There were about 83,600 employees in the media sector in 2015. When freelancers were added, the workforce grew by 50 per cent, the MCI estimated in a study that year.

Plans to develop a tripartite standard for media freelancers were first announced during the MCI’s debate over the national budget in March this year.

Written contracts are among the four areas covered in the new guidelines. Companies will have to provide freelancers with a contract detailing the agreed work to be delivered, ownership of intellectual property, and payment deadline.

Apart from keeping to the payment deadline, companies should also offer insurance for freelancers, namely for work-related accidents and production equipment.

Mediation should be the “first course of action” for any dispute resolution, and the IMDA would provide subsidies for mediation services to eligible companies and freelancers.

Mr Chee said: “To develop our media industry, we must first develop and look after our media talents, including freelancers in the industry.”

WORK DELIVERED, PAYMENTS MADE ON TIME

Production house Weiyu Films, one company that has promised to keep to the standards, typically hires a minimum of 20 freelancers for smaller projects such as telemovies. Its managing director Lee Thean-Jeen, 49, said that the stipulated conditions would not be a challenge for the company because, for one, he already offers freelancers a written contract and insurance coverage. “Essentially a contract is an agreement that sets out deliverables on either end. We did that for clarity,” he explained.

As more companies commit to these guidelines, Mr Lee hopes that freelancers will also have “a certain level of professionalism” in their work. “When we talk about timely payment, we also hope that there will be a reciprocal sense of professional conduct – timely submission of work.”

Freelancers who spoke to TODAY said that these guidelines would offer them greater security in an industry where late payments happened occasionally.

Freelance writer Joy Fang, 32, has seen established companies default on payment, although the contract stated that payment would be made within 30 or 60 days of completing the assignment.

“I’ve chased for payment for more than four months and received very snappy replies about how the finance department is slow or they are checking on it, and then gradually just ignoring me,” she said. “There were times I was tempted to just forego it because it was so difficult and needed so much effort just to get a few hundred dollars back.”

Ms Fang is sceptical about whether companies will follow through with the various conditions in practice. Rather than just barring them from funding, perhaps a carrot-and-stick approach — comprising incentives and financial penalties — may also be considered to make it more effective when it comes to ensuring compliance, she suggested.

Agreeing with Ms Fang, Mr Keiji Umehara, 27, who produces travel videos for clients independently, said that while the tripartite standards sound very “comforting” and “safe”, he is unsure how many companies are going to abide by them.

In terms of progress, freelance writer Clara Lock, 27, is glad that there is an emphasis on written contracts and insurance provision, adding that the paperwork would protect freelancers. “It’s not the only thing that would weigh on my decision as to whether or not to take a job, but I do take that into account. As a freelancer, you strive to be a reliable service provider for a company, and if the company is reliable as well, you know that it is an employer you would want to work for,” she said.

Source: TODAY Online

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