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Essential Tripartite Standards Guide for Singapore Freelancers

The Tripartite Standards provide industry best practices that both organisations and freelancers can incorporate into their working relationship.

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One day, you’re approached by a new client for some freelance work.

You haven’t heard of this client before and want to find out how it’s like working for them. After all, as far as possible you’d prefer to not be asked to change the scope of your deliverables mid-way through the project. Or have to chase for late payment.

You ask your network of freelancer friends, but none of them have worked for this client before either.

What do you do next then? Is there some kind of official list of “good” clients that you can refer to to check whether a potential client is naughty or nice?

Also, what are some practices you can incorporate into agreements with clients to protect yourself from being taken for a ride?

Introducing: the Tripartite Standards.

What are the Tripartite Standards?

The Tripartite Standards are standards setting out progressive work practices which organisations can adopt. These standards are jointly developed by NTUC, MOM and SNEF (Singapore National Employers Federation) and supported by TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices).

Organisations that have adopted particular sets of Tripartite Standards will be able to display the Tripartite Standards logomark(s) on their job ads and marketing collaterals.

This is especially since the adoption of Tripartite Standards is optional. So if you see that a particular organisation has done so, you can have more assurance that they are committed to fair and responsible work practices.

Tripartite Standards vs Existing Laws, Tripartite Guidelines and Tripartite Advisories

As mentioned above, it is not compulsory for organisations to adopt the Tripartite Standards. Organisations can choose whether to adopt them. This is because the Tripartite Standards are not laws.

Also, as you Google for information on the Tripartite Standards, you may also come across “Tripartite Guidelines” and “Tripartite Advisories”. These are also issued by TAFEP. But the Tripartite Standards are not the same as these Tripartite Guidelines or Tripartite Advisories.

What’s the difference between the Tripartite Standards, existing laws, the Tripartite Guidelines and the Tripartite Advisories then?

Think of it this way:

1. There is a “base layer” of employment laws

These laws are found in statutes such as the Employment Act, and cases decided by the court. Organisations MUST follow these laws.

(Side note: freelancers are not covered by the Employment Act.)

2. These laws are supplemented by the Tripartite Guidelines

However, these laws don’t provide the rules for all situations imaginable. So they are supplemented by the Tripartite Guidelines.

The Tripartite Guidelines aren’t laws, so they technically aren’t legally binding. However, MOM has stated that it can take action against organisations which don’t comply with the Tripartite Guidelines.

As of 22 Sep 2018, there aren’t any Tripartite Guidelines which specifically relate to the hiring of freelancers.

3. Tripartite Advisories provide recommended progressive work practices

Forward-looking organisations can also go beyond their employment law obligations and implement optional progressive work practices. Tripartite Advisories outline how such practices could look like.

As of 22 Sep 2018, there aren’t any Tripartite Advisories which specifically relate to the hiring of freelancers.

4. Organisations which adopt progressive work practices can be recognised through the Tripartite Standards

Just like the Tripartite Advisories, the Tripartite Standards also prescribe progressive work practices that organisations can adopt.

However, the Tripartite Standards come with logomarks – special logos with the names of the respective Tripartite Standards on them.

Organisations which have adopted certain Tripartite Standards can display their respective logomarks in their job ads and marketing collaterals as a “badge of honour” of their progressive work practices.

So it’s like a sort of accreditation scheme:

  • Organisations can be recognised for their efforts to implement progressive work practices.
  • In return, people can have greater confidence that they will be treated fairly and responsibly when working for those organisations.

What are the Tripartite Standards Applicable to Freelancers?

As of writing, 8 sets of Tripartite Standards have been released to cover different situations encountered in the workplace. The 2 that are directly applicable to freelancers are the:

  1. Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons
  2. Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers

Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons

The Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons (TS SEP) provides standards for businesses intending to work with self-employed persons.

Organisations that have adopted the TS SEP will be able to display the following logomark on their job ads and marketing collaterals:

The word "TS" in large font size on the top left of the logomark, with the words "self-employed persons" to the right of this. The bottom of the logomark says "Tripartite Standards". All this text is set against a brown rectangular background.

Who is considered a “self-employed person” under the TS SEP?

For the purposes of the TS SEP, “self-employed persons” are defined as persons who:

“operate their own trade or businesses”.

Freelancers such as graphic designers, sport coaches and tourist guides have also been specifically included in this definition. For more information, check out our list of self-employed jobs in Singapore.

What are the TS SEP’s specifications?

Note: The TS SEP’s specifications are presented on the TAFEP website in a different manner from what you’ll see below. I’ve restructured them for hopefully better clarity.

Here’s an infographic that summarises the specifications of the TS SEP:

Before SEPs deliver any products of services: (1) Parties should discuss and agree on certain key terms of the arrangement; (2) The terms of the agreement should be set out in writing; and (3) SEPs should get a copy of the written agreement.

(Click here to open a larger version of the TS SEP infographic in a new tab.)

The TS SEP states that before self-employed persons deliver any products or services to their clients:

Parties should discuss and agree on certain key terms of the arrangement

These key terms include:

Term Sample considerations
Parties’ names
  • The name of the self-employed person (or that of their business)
  • The name of the client
Parties’ obligations
  • Outcome: What products or services will the self-employed person deliver to the client?
  • Duration: When will such products / services be delivered?
  • Location: Where will such products / services be delivered?
  • What will the client need to provide in order to facilitate the self-employed person’s delivery of such products / services?
Payment
  • How much will the client have to pay for each product / service (or part thereof)?
  • How will payment be collected?
    • E.g. periodically as services are rendered, or within X days of the self-employed person issuing an invoice for delivered services / milestones
Variation / Termination of agreement
  • Can either party vary (i.e. modify) the terms of the agreement, or terminate it entirely?
  • If so, how?
    • E.g. by mutual agreement, or by giving X days’ notice
Dispute resolution
  • How can parties resolve any disputes that arise during the course of the project?
  • Under the TS SEP, mediation should be made an option for resolving disputes. However, parties should still be able to bring their dispute to the Small Claims Tribunals if they wish to.
The terms of the agreement should be set out in writing

After discussing and agreeing on the terms of the agreement, both parties should set these out clearly and in writing.

Agreements need not be in writing to be legally enforceable. However, getting them down in writing:

  • Goes a long way in making sure parties are on the same page regarding what they have agreed on.
  • It also helps with enforcement of the agreement later on if required.
Self-employed persons should get a copy of the written agreement

Having a copy of the written agreement before work commences will help self-employed persons be clear on:

  • What they have agreed to provide under the agreement (i.e. their obligations); and
  • What they are entitled to in return (i.e. their rights).

Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers

The Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers (TS Media Freelancers) provides standards for businesses intending to work specifically with media freelancers (hence its name), and not other types of self-employed persons.

The TS Media Freelancers is like a more extensive version of the TS SEP which caters to the needs of the media industry. That said, even if you’re a freelancer in another industry, you may still find some of its requirements also worth implementing in your own agreements with clients.

Organisations that have adopted the TS Media Freelancers will be able to display the following logomark on their job ads and marketing collaterals:

The word "TS" in large font size on the top left of the logomark, with the words "Media Freelancers" to the right of this. The bottom of the logomark says "Tripartite Standards". All this text is set against a purple rectangular background.

Who is considered a “media freelancer” under the TS Media Freelancers?

For the purposes of the TS Media Freelancers, a media freelancer is a person who:

  • Doesn’t have a contract of service with an employer;
  • Operates their own media service business or trade (e.g. design, development, production, operation, distribution, sale and/or marketing of media);
  • Operates either as an individual or through an ACRA-registered business entity;
  • Doesn’t hire any employees;
  • Negotiates their terms with clients; and
  • Is being contracted by the client specifically for the services that this person provides (this must also be clearly stated in the contract).

What does the TS Media Freelancers require?

The TS Media Freelancers has 4 specifications:

  1. Written contract
  2. Timely payment
  3. Dispute resolution
  4. Insurance

Here’s an infographic that summarises the specifications of the TS Media Freelancers:

(1) Written contract; (2) Timely payment; (3) Dispute resolution; (4) Insurance

(Click here to open a larger version of the TS Media Freelancers infographic in a new tab.)

1. Written contract

The TS Media Freelancers requires parties to have a written contract that both of them have agreed upon and acknowledged before any services are rendered.

The contract should contain the following key terms:

Term Sample considerations
Parties’ names
  • The name of the media freelancer (or that of their business)
  • The name of the client
Service(s) provided by media freelancer
  • Deliverables: What service(s) will the media freelancer provide?
  • Duration: When are such service(s) to be provided?
  • Location: Where are such service(s) to be provided?
Payment
  • What is included in the fee?
  • When will the client be charged for work?
    • i.e. payment milestones
  • By when must payment be made?
  • How much will be charged if the client does not make payment according to agreed payment milestones?
    • E.g. interest for late payments
Variation / Termination of contract
  • Can either party vary (i.e. modify) the terms of the contract, or terminate it entirely?
  • If so, how?
Confidentiality
  • What information received by the media freelancer / the client from the other party is to be kept confidential?
Intellectual property
  • Who is to own any intellectual property produced as a result of the arrangement?
Dispute resolution
  • Disputes are to be settled through negotiation and mediation first. (more on this below)
2. Timely payment

Media freelancers are to be paid according to the agreed payment period once payment milestones in the contract have been met.

If the written contract doesn’t provide for any payment milestones, then media freelancers are to be paid within 45 days of the client receiving their invoice upon completion of agreed deliverables.

3. Dispute resolution

If any disputes arise during the course of the project, parties are to make reasonable efforts to settle these disputes through negotiation and mediation first.

Also, any agreement on the dispute reached through negotiation and mediation is to be recorded in writing and acknowledged by both parties.

Side note: Media freelancers may be able to tap on mediation subsidies offered by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) for the resolution of their disputes!

4. Insurance

Clients are required to insure media freelancers whose services are required at certain locations specified by the client (e.g. sets).

The insurance plan should cover:

  • Production equipment insurance: All risks of direct physical loss, damage or destruction to production equipment operated by media freelancers, whether such equipment is owned or rented by the client
  • Commercial general liability: Claims for property damage, or bodily injury suffered by third-parties (e.g. passers-by) during production
  • Work-related personal accident insurance: Claims for work-related accidents by the media freelancers themselves (for e.g. medical expenses, total and permanent disability, or death)

Note: Receiving coverage from clients’ insurance is not a replacement for insurance that freelancers should themselves buy to protect themselves. More on this in our guide to insurance for freelancers in Singapore.

Which Organisations Have Adopted the Tripartite Standards?

You can check whether a particular organisation has adopted either the TS SEP or the TS Media Freelancers (or both) on the TAFEP website:

Users can search for organisations which have adopted various Tripartite Standards by searching either by logomark or by organisation name.

To get a list of all organisations that have adopted a particular set(s) of Tripartite Standards, simply click on the relevant Tripartite Standard.

Or if you want to know whether a particular organisation has adopted any of the Tripartite Standards, you can search for that organisation’s name directly.

As of 29 March 2020, 766 organisations have adopted the TS SEP, while 579 organisations have adopted the TS Media Freelancers. These numbers may increase in the future, especially since IMDA has stated that from 1 April 2018 onwards, it will only issue media funding to organisations that have adopted the TS Media Freelancers.

Do media freelancers need to adopt the TS Media Freelancers?

Media freelancers are not required to adopt the TS Media Freelancers. (The same should also apply to non-media freelancers who want to adopt the TS SEP.)

That said:

  • Media freelancers can still do their part to ensure fair working arrangements with clients, such as having written contracts and invoicing clients promptly.
  • Media freelancers who operate through ACRA-registered business entities can also show their support for the TS Media Freelancers by applying to adopt it.

Disclaimer: don’t take TAFEP’s list of organisations that have adopted the Tripartite Standards at face value

Although the list on the TAFEP website is a good starting point for freelancers to find out whether a potential client endorses fair and responsible work practices, take it with a pinch of salt.

It appears very easy for organisations to get themselves onto the list. They simply need to fill in a form which includes a declaration that they meet all the specifications of the Tripartite Standard(s) they want to adopt.

After that, it doesn’t seem that TAFEP will do much due diligence to verify the applying organisation’s work practices before listing it on their website. This is especially since organisations don’t need to provide any supporting documents for their application – they have to make these available only if required to do so.

In short, do still try to do your own due diligence on clients before agreeing to complete work for them. Even for those that have adopted the Tripartite Standards!

What If You Have a Complaint against an Organisation that Has Adopted the Tripartite Standards?

If you have reason to believe that a Tripartite Standard-adopting organisation has fallen short of its obligations under the corresponding standards, you can submit written feedback to ts@tafep.sg.

If your feedback is substantiated, TAFEP may get in touch with the organisation to check if it meets the specifications of the Tripartite Standard(s) it has adopted.

The TS SEP and TS for Media Freelancers go a long way in helping freelancers know what the industry best practices are when it comes to working for freelance clients.

Freelancers can also now get a better idea of whether a particular client endorses fair and progressive work practices when deciding whether to work for them.

Therefore when you are approached by clients seeking your services, it wouldn’t hurt for you to run their names through the TAFEP website to see if they have adopted the Tripartite Standards.

But even if the client isn’t on the list, you can still refer to the Tripartite Standards for a better idea of the terms you should include in your written(!) contract when negotiating agreements with potential clients.

Apart from the requirements stated in the TS SEP and TS for Media Freelancers, are there other best practices that you think should also apply in relation to freelance projects? Leave a comment!

Images: TAFEP

Tan Siew Ann
Fuelled by a long-standing interest in media, Siew Ann ventured into digital marketing while in law school and has not looked back since. Being inspired by the struggles that she and others have faced while freelancing in Singapore, Siew Ann started lancerX to help freelancers turn their craft into sustainable and meaningful full-time businesses.

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