How Freelancers And Self-Employed Persons Can Protect Themselves In Trade Disputes

This article was contributed to us by Julia Chan. Information and views shared in this article are based on her own personal experience.

Being a freelancer or a self-employed person can expose you to being vulnerable, such as being on the losing side on trade disputes against larger clients.

I attended a talk by NTUC’s U Freelancers and Self-Employed (UFSE) unit to understand how freelancers and self-employed persons can protect themselves in the event of trade disputes.

Freelancers and self-employed persons have several channels to resolve payment-related disputes.

First of all, they can see if their particular industry has targeted mediation and reporting channels. For example, media freelancers can tap on IMDA’s Subsidised Mediation Service, while taxi drivers can contact LTA for pre-mediation support.

Those who are in sectors without industry-specific initiatives can approach the Tripartite Alliance Dispute Management (TADM) and/or Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), if voluntary mediation by TADM doesn’t work out.


Tripartite Alliance Dispute Management (TADM) And Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)

Before you take your case to the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), you have the option of approaching TADM first for assistance. TADM (Tripartite Alliance Dispute Management) was established in 2017 by MOM, NTUC and SNEF to assist employers and employees resolve employment disputes.

There are currently two TADM centres: Jurong East for Singaporeans and PRs, and Bendemeer for foreigners. Self-employed persons can also approach TADM if they have trade disputes with their clients.

TADM for self-employed persons is accessible to both NTUC and non-NTUC members. Bring your service contract or documents containing key terms such as payment schedule and records.

The main differences between both groups are:

TADM ServicesNTUC MemberNon-NTUC Member
NTUC AdvisoryYesNo
TADM FeesFreeFees Apply
How To Submit Your CaseWalk-in to the Jurong East TADM branch, e-mail TADM or call 6213 8008.Make an online appointment with TADM
Time TakenPriorityNormal

Going through TADM may help resolve the dispute without having to go to SCT, which may jeopardise the self-employed person’s future work opportunities with the client. However, if both parties cannot reach a win-win outcome during mediations, either party can still proceed with SCT.

The SCT claim fee applies for all ($50 for claims of below $5,000, $100 for claims between $5,000-$10,000, and a 3% fee for claims above $10,000). Claimants must file claims within 1 year from the date on which the cause of action accrued.

How NTUC And TADM Helped A Self-Employed Person Get His Rightful Payment

I heard directly from a coach who didn’t get his agreed payment on time from a client.

When he tried to contact the client to enquire about the payment, the client repeatedly told him their computer had issues hence the payment hasn’t been paid yet. It came to a point that the client didn’t even want to reply.

He was frustrated over the payment issue as he has a family to feed and he was still coaching at the client’s premises without knowing when he would be paid for the earlier sessions.

He searched online and learnt about TADM @ NTUC online. He contacted TADM @ NTUC to raise his issue and informed them that he was an NTUC member. Soon after, an NTUC staff contacted him. He had a few missed calls as he was busy coaching and only picked up his phone after 7pm. He was very moved that the NTUC staff worked late as the staff tried to call him even after office hours.

After understanding his situation more, the NTUC staff emailed the client and received a reply within 3 days. “When I emailed (the client), the client kept on saying the computer spoilt, then when NTUC emailed, suddenly their computer wasn’t spoilt anymore,” the coach shared.

Shortly after, he received the payment he was owed, and he is still being engaged as a coach.  He is grateful the issue was resolved without having to go through SCT, as he had heard that if self-employed persons go SCT they may get blacklisted by the client in future.

NTUC UFSE also shared a case study of a freelance tuition teacher whose payment had been delayed for more than 3 months by a tuition centre. 

When NTUC contacted the centre, it was revealed that the tuition centre was involved in a legal suit and cash was tight. NTUC gave a 2-week timeline for the centre to pay the tuition teacher, who received his rightful payment without having to proceed to SCT.

TADM Also Serves Non-NTUC Members

Non-NTUC members can make an appointment with TADM, though their appointment date may be later compared to NTUC members who are usually served earlier.

Non-NTUC members also have to pay a $40 fee (for claims up to $10,000) or a $60 fee (for claims above $10,000), compared to NTUC members who can access the TADM service for free.

It sucks being stuck in a situation where you’re not being paid, hence if you know any freelancer or self-employed person who is facing a trade dispute, do inform them of the various avenues he/she can turn to.

For more information, you can learn more about NTUC’s assistance and resources for freelancers and self-employed.

This article was contributed by Julia Chan, a working mother who intends to survive till she can retire and travel around the world. She likes to explore diverse perspectives and uncover hidden treasures on her blog Jules the Traveller. Drop us a message to share your thoughts on entrepreneurship, the Singaporestartup scene, or the gig economy.

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