Grab head: Workers going freelance in Singapore due to Covid-19 slump should look for other jobs when economy recovers

Yee Wee Tang, managing director of Grab Singapore, said that the ride-hailing firm would help and encourage gig workers whose goal is to move to other jobs. — TODAY pic
Yee Wee Tang, managing director of Grab Singapore, said that the ride-hailing firm would help and encourage gig workers whose goal is to move to other jobs. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 29 — More Singaporeans are understandably taking up jobs in the gig economy to boost their income during the economic slump, but the head of Grab Singapore hopes that most of them will explore other earning opportunities when the economy recovers. 

Yee Wee Tang, managing director of the ride-hailing firm, said: “Because of the (state of the economy), we see more and more Singaporeans (taking up freelance work) as a stop-gap measure.

“We hope most of them don’t stay. And when the economy recovers, they go on to do other things.” 

He added that the technology company is “fully supportive of our (driver and delivery) partners who would like to start new career paths outside of Grab”, and will provide them with the support to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.

In an exclusive interview with TODAY last Friday (September 25), Yee also spoke about how Grab will seek to navigate the challenges brought on by Covid-19, with new initiatives to help hawkers list their stalls on its mobile application, among others. 

Even before the coronavirus outbreak struck, many gig workers with Grab — such as food delivery riders and private-hire car drivers — had “expressed interest in exploring other earning opportunities”, Yee noted.

For instance, an internal survey of 3,000 driver-partners done last year showed that more than 70 per cent of them planned to stop driving after two years. 

In June, Grab announced training and career support initiatives to improve the employability of its driver-partners, aiming to benefit 2,000 to 3,000 driver-partners in the coming months. 

These initiatives include having a career support portal, where drivers may take up career coaching, introductory courses and certification to help them explore other job opportunities. 

“Our goal is always to try to help them when they are with us,” Yee said. “But also, if their ultimate goal is to go move on to something different, we will encourage them, and we will help them as much as we can.” 

Private-hire car drivers have been struggling, especially during the circuit breaker period, when stay-home curbs were in force and non-essential activities were halted from April to June. There was a corresponding drop in rides.

Earlier this month, the Government announced that it would set aside S$112 million (RM339.8 million) in financial relief for taxi operators and private-hire firms to tide them through the pandemic, on top of the S$77 million support package announced in February and another S$95 million package announced in March.

To cushion the blow further, Yee said that private-hire car drivers have been earning extra income by delivering food under GrabFood, groceries under GrabMart and parcels under GrabExpress. 

For example, during the circuit breaker, Grab drivers were instrumental in delivering larger amounts of food for longer distances to families islandwide, he said.

These services have seen a sustained two-fold increase in demand as the country went into the second phase of reopening its economy in the middle of June, compared with the pre-Covid-19 period, Yee added.

Now that more residents are heading out of their homes with the gradual lifting of restrictions, Grab drivers are focusing more on transport jobs once again, but the other forms of income will be available to drivers until at least September next year. 

“Currently we are in Phase Two, and the economy is also opening up gradually and that will provide some uplift to the demand,” Yee said.

“We will continue to monitor the situation, and stand ready to adjust our services and extend support wherever possible.”

Helping hawkers go digital

As Grab tackles the challenges linked to the Covid-19 crisis in the coming months, Yee believes that the shift for businesses to go online will be “a dominant one”. 

“I think going digital cannot be an afterthought anymore and it is key to capture new opportunities now,” he said. 

“We have been very focused on helping small businesses to digitise their operations, focusing on making sure that they have the right resources and tools, so that they are not at a disadvantage during this pandemic.” 

For example, Grab in August expanded its Hawker Centre 2.0 initiative — where customers can have food delivered from stalls within a hawker centre. While the pilot scheme that launched in May featured only AMK 724 Food Centre, there are now 16 more locations nationwide and a total of 188 more hawkers expected to be on board. 

There were obstacles in getting hawkers on the app, since many of them are not technologically savvy or have language issues. For instance, Grab employees have had to provide on-site help to teach hawkers how to navigate the app. 

“There’s a lot more we can do, maybe get more people on the ground to train (hawkers) individually (or) to send instructions in a different language.” 

Separately, through a programme called the Grab Merchant Academy, business owners may also pick up digital skills through free online modules. 

Launched this month, the modules feature topics such as online store management, menu optimisation, community management and online marketing.

Grab has also started a “Mix and Match” initiative, where customers can have food and grocery items from one mall, street, hawker centre or food court delivered to them at one go. At least 50 such locations are under this initiative, including Killiney Road, Chinatown and Raffles Hotel. 

“The advantage of this is it reduces the cost of delivery,” Yee said. “Now I can buy things from multiple merchants and pay just one delivery fee.”

He added that due to the stoppage of construction work during the pandemic, Grab’s move into its S$181 million headquarters in the One-north business district — originally scheduled for this year — will be delayed by several months.

“I passed by the area a few days ago and no way (would it be completed by this year)”, he said. — TODAY

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