Skip to main content

Speech at PropNex 2nd Quarterly Convention 2019

Josephine Teo Minister for Manpower, The Star Theatre @ the Star Performing Arts Centre

Mr Ismail Gafoor, CEO of PropNex,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.


1. We just celebrated National Day, and it is the Year of the Bicentennial.

• Hope you have seen the Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning Park Centre. About 375,000 people have and tickets are fully subscribed till the 15th of September.

• If you haven’t, PM announced it will be extended to end December. Best to catch it by then.

2. Those who have seen it may recall that there are DNA traits that have featured in our journey from Singapore to Singaporean.

• Openness, which keeps us connected to the world and helped us prosper.

• Multiculturalism, which allows us to benefit from the diverse communities while living in harmony.

• The spirit of self-determination, which spur us to always be masters of our own fate, controllers of our own destiny.

3. Throughout our history, other attributes of Singaporeans have made a difference. For example:

• We’re results-oriented – we are less impressed by fancy talk and more by people who produce results.

• We’re resourceful – we have to in order to survive; over time, this becomes valued and encouraged.

• We’re resilient – our people have been tested from time to time. But we don’t say die. We pick ourselves up and try again.

4. As I was preparing for today’s session with you, it occurred to me that these 3Rs - results-orientation, resourcefulness and resilience – are also found in many real estate agents.

Results-oriented: Some people think your work is “OTOT”; but you know it takes discipline to follow-up on leads and persist until a transaction is done. You must be focussed on results to last long in this career.

Resourceful: It is also a competitive industry with around 29,000 agents today. Yet many of you can carve out a niche and reputation for yourselves.

Resilient: The property market here is never static – it can be riding high and come crashing down suddenly like during the Asian Financial Crisis and Global Financial Crisis. It takes a certain toughness to ride out these waves.

5. In the limited time we have, instead of trying to cover too much, I will just focus on three questions that may be of interest to you:

• How does the Government think about self-employed persons (SEPs) like real estate agents?

• What will technological developments mean for us?

• How can the Government better support SEPs?

Thinking about SEPs

6. From our labour force survey, we saw that in the past decade, the proportion of SEPs who did self-employed work as their main job remained stable, at 8-10% of our resident workforce.

• In fact, from our most recent survey in 2018, the proportion of SEPs is low, at 8% of the workforce in 2018. In absolute numbers, there were also fewer SEPs in 2018 compared to 2017[1].

7. Most people in self-employment[2] – including real estate agents – preferred self-employment , because of the autonomy and flexibility that they enjoy.

8. So, it is a career of choice for most of you, not a career of last resort. Still, some of you have concerns on career development and mobility.

• In fact, these concerns are shared by other SEPs, even people in regular employment. Among SEPs too, there are sometimes movements. For example, a financial planner may switch into real estate or vice versa. Just like regular employers, people move to where they can have the most rewarding careers.

• Nowadays, people can be regular employees by day and self-employed at night or on weekends. And the combinations can change quite easily.

9. As such, the Government takes a broader approach to promote job creation and job transformation, but not to dictate what people should do and where they should work.

• This means we try our best to diversify our economy and keep it vibrant. We welcome different types of companies to do business here, employ our people or use their services. This allows people to have many jobs to choose from.

10. To make sure the jobs are of good quality, we must also make sure our people have the skills. Besides helping them to get a good education, there are programmes such as SkillsFuture, or Adapt and Grow to keep their skills relevant.

11. With job creation and transformation, comprehensive education and access to reskilling, our workers can decide what kind of careers work best for them, and be able to move from one to another if they wish to. This includes self-employment.

12. So the Government sees self-employment as expanding the options for work. It is up to you to decide. If it works well for you, good. If it doesn’t, there are other career options and you can get help to move.

Impact of Technology

13. Let me say something about technology. People sometimes worry that automation technology in particular will replace humans and we will have far fewer jobs for people. Actually, technology also creates new jobs. But people like to keep count – how many jobs lost, how many jobs added, the net effect…

14. If you ask me, that kind of thinking is not the most useful. The real story is that technology (and not just automation) will likely change all of our businesses and all of our jobs. Whatever work we do, keeping up with technology will more likely help us stay relevant and employed.

15. Automation technology can take away some of the repetitive tasks that may not add much value. But in services, automation cannot take away the customer’s desire for some services to be personalised or bespoke. In fact, technology can help you meet higher service expectations and lower costs.

16. Take the example of a travel agency. Anyone today can easily compare prices of flight tickets and book online. Travel agencies that continue to only offer flight booking services and standard tour packages would likely be in trouble.

• Many travel agencies have hence moved into tying up with their overseas partners, and using online trip planners to curate bespoke travel itineraries for customers seeking experiences that are out-of-the-ordinary. They are using AI and data analytics, for example, to check out the customers’ preferences and carry out targeted digital marketing.

17. In a competitive landscape, businesses which adapt and innovate actually have a better chance to distinguish themselves and do well.

18. For individuals, there are also many ways technology can present opportunities, and make your work easier. The key is however, learning to work with the technologies and not against them. This is true for all forms of employment, including self-employment.

Government Support for SEPs

19. Finally, let me say something about Government support for SEPs. Although SEPs have been a stable share of our workforce, the challenges are evolving.

20. For one thing, it has become easier to move into and out of “gigs”. For example, in the past, you can’t use your own car easily to pick passengers or a PMD to deliver food. Today, you can do it anytime you feel up to it.

21. This was why MOM set up the Tripartite Workgroup on SEPs in 2017.

22. The Workgroup’s recommendations focussed on practical problems faced by SEPs in 4 main areas:

• Getting paid for work done
• Resolving payment disputes
• Dealing with prolonged illnesses
• Making MediSave contributions

23. The Government has made progress in implementing the recommendations:

Accurate and Timely Payments for Work Done

24. First, to ensure SEPs are paid for work done accurately and in a timely manner:

• We launched the Tripartite Standard on Contracting with SEPs in March last year. Businesses that adopt the Standard commit to make clear the working arrangements with SEPs, including when payments will be made.

• This is fair and I hope you will encourage PropNex to consider signing on to the Standard. After all, about 570 businesses from various sectors have already come on board.

Payment Disputes

25. Second, to assist SEPs to resolve payment disputes:

• The Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management provides voluntary mediation services to all SEPs who have payment disputes with their service buyers. The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) also provides assistance to resolve disputes between clients and the agency. All SEPs, including real estate agents, can also have their claims heard at the Small Claims Tribunals.

Prolonged Medical Leave

26. Third, SEPs are more vulnerable when they fall sick for prolonged periods. Unlike regular employees, they usually have no medical benefits and the loss of income could be an added burden:

• We worked with insurers to introduce prolonged medical leave insurance products. I would encourage you to consider purchasing such insurance products if you are not already covered.

Making MediSave Contributions

27. Lastly, to support SEPs in making MediSave contributions and saving for their healthcare needs:

• We would be introducing a Contribute-as-you-Earn (CAYE) model to enable SEPs to contribute to the MediSave account, as and when payments are received. The Government will take the lead to pilot this new model for SEPs working with the Government. So if an SEP like a freelance photographer does work for the Government, we will help him pay his MediSave contributions before paying out the rest of his fee.

• It adds convenience and the SEPs don’t have to worry about having to contribute bigger lump sums during “dry seasons”. They also start getting the 4% MediSave account interest earlier.

• The Government will be trying out CAYE as a pilot, and we have no plans to extend CAYE to the private sector for now. In the meantime, I would like to encourage agents who can afford it, to make voluntary contributions to your CPF Special Account – or Retirement Account, if you are above 55 – to save more for retirement.


28. I hope that by addressing these questions, we have set the stage for a good conversation. We have talked about the landscape for SEPs, how we can make technology work for us, and Government’s support for SEPs.

29. I now look forward to our chit-chat. Thank you again for inviting me.


  1. The number of SEPs who are primarily in self-employment (primary SEPs) decreased from 190,900 in 2017 to 182,100 in 2018.
  2. ‘Self-employed persons' or 'SEPs' in the survey findings cited refer to 'own account workers' who operate their own trade or business without hiring any paid employees.