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Some theatre freelancers see applications for Covid-19 relief rejected due to income classification

SINGAPORE — When they applied for a government relief scheme to help self-employed persons affected by Covid-19, some freelance technical crew such as sound, lighting and stage professionals in the theatre industry have had their applications rejected.

Some freelance technical crew — such as sound, lighting and stage professionals — in the theatre industry have had their applications rejected because their income was misclassified.

Some freelance technical crew — such as sound, lighting and stage professionals — in the theatre industry have had their applications rejected because their income was misclassified.

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  • Employment type and incomes of freelance technical crew may have been wrongly classified 
  • These freelancers believe having their income classified as "employment income" led to the rejection of their Sirs applications 
  • MOM said Iras is accepting requests for reclassification
     

SINGAPORE — When they applied for a government relief scheme to help self-employed persons affected by Covid-19, some freelance technical crew such as sound, lighting and stage professionals in the theatre industry have had their applications rejected.

This is because their income was classified under the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) as “employment income” — they still get Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions from people who hired them for their services even though these freelancers work on an ad-hoc basis. 

Aside from employment income, there is a classification called “trade income” — for freelancers who self-contribute to their CPF accounts.

The Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs) provides eligible freelancers with three quarterly cash payouts of S$3,000 each to tide over the Covid-19 crisis.

To qualify, one’s employment income must not exceed S$2,300 a month and his net trade income cannot be more than S$100,000 a year.

Some freelance technical crew said that their employment income could appear higher than the qualifying cap, although there are months where they do not earn any income. 

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) clarified that the criteria of S$2,300 a month is calculated on an average basis over a year and is not based on individual months.

Mr Kok Heng Leun, artistic director of theatre company Drama Box, said that there are at least 100 freelance technical crew whose applications for Sirs were rejected because their income was classified as employment income.

The former Nominated Member of Parliament polled 81 of such freelancers in July and found that three-quarters of them had their applications rejected.

A majority of the remainder did not apply for Sirs as they assumed their efforts would be futile, he added.

Mr Kok said that aside from those who hit the income ceiling, freelance technical crew should be eligible because they are not contracted to any employers and do not get the same benefits as full-time employees.

This also raises questions on whether they are eligible for wage support under the Jobs Support Scheme since their incomes are classified as employment income, Mr Kok added.

The scheme helped employers pay up to 75 per cent of wages until August this year on the first S$4,600 of a worker's gross monthly pay. It was adjusted later to pay between 10 and 50 per cent for another seven months from September, depending on the sector.

Iras said employment income is either declared by freelance technical crews during tax filing or submitted by their employers via the auto-inclusion scheme. Income with CPF contributions made by employers is considered as employment income, it added.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in response to TODAY's queries that it is aware of feedback from technical crew within the arts sector on their eligibility for Sirs.

Acknowledging that some might have had their employment type and income wrongly classified, the ministry added that Iras is accepting requests for reclassification.

TODAY spoke to 11 freelance technical crew who said that it has been difficult to navigate the application process as many were initially not aware how their incomes have been misclassified.

A majority have had their applications rejected and have turned to the Covid-19 Support Grant, which provides up to S$800 a month for three months to workers who lost their jobs, were placed on involuntary no-pay leave or have had at least a 30 per cent salary cut.

NO EMPLOYER TO HELP

Ms Desiree Lim, who takes up freelance work as a technical crew member but has not found jobs in the last six months, said that she and others she knows are confused with the income declaration requirements due to the nature of their work.

They work in performance venues but at times, they take up jobs outside these venues, where employers pay them in cash and do not contribute to their CPF, the 29-year-old said.

While Ms Lim has given up on applying for Sirs, Ms Fatin Ismail, 27, said that she is reapplying for the third time because the money could pay for her renovation loan, medical insurance and household expenses while she looks for a job.

“I wish more assistance and attention could be given to freelancers as they are on their own, with no employers or bosses to help them during times like these,” Ms Fatin said.

One successful applicant, Mr Abdul Hamid Muhammad, 42, said that he requested a reclassification of income from Iras before applying for Sirs.

The father of four teenage children, who is now working as a safe distancing ambassador, had earlier spent weeks enquiring with various agencies after learning that many of his former colleagues had their applications rejected.

Mr Indra Dharmawan Buhari, 32, believes that his application was approved because he had declared his income meticulously.

“I think people give up after they got rejected the first time because the process can get very troublesome for many. You have to calculate how much you earn from all the different jobs you take up,” Mr Indra said. He is working as a delivery rider and has two children — a newborn and a 19-month-old toddler.

NTUC HAS HELPED TO RESOLVE ISSUES: MOM

Earlier this month, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in Parliament that about two in three applications have been approved and 190,000 people have received payouts, of whom 100,000 qualified automatically so far.

Those who were rejected may have been earning more than S$100,000 in net trade income, are living in high-value properties, or have owned two or more properties with their spouses.

Unsuccessful applicants were redirected to the Covid-19 Support Grant or appropriate agencies for follow-up assistance, she added.

MOM told TODAY that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has helped to resolve these issues, fulfil CPF obligations and apply for Sirs. Eligible applicants will receive the full payouts regardless of when their applications are approved.

In addition, the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth said that it has been working with national cultural institutions, such as the Esplanade and Arts House Limited, to help technical crew members engaged by them to apply for the government support schemes should they be eligible for these.

The institutions have also provided information on job opportunities, including those under the SGUnited Jobs Initiative, it added. The SGUnited Jobs Initiative run by government agency Workforce Singapore seeks to create more than 40,000 jobs this year, to support workers who have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis.

Related topics

theatres SIRS self-employed freelancers Covid-19 coronavirus

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