A new pop-up care centre at Downtown East aims to assist private-hire and taxi drivers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
New care centre caters to cabbies affected by COVID-19 outbreak The centre aims to help drivers apply for NTUC's assistance funds, learn more about other forms of immediate assistance and explore other job options PHOTO: ST FILE

A pop-up care centre for private-hire and taxi drivers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak has been launched at Downtown East by the National Private Hire Vehicles Association and National Taxi Association.

The centre, which includes a job fair backed by NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), aims to help drivers apply for NTUC's assistance funds, learn more about other forms of immediate assistance and explore other job options.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said the centre at Begonia Terrace in Downtown East will run "as long as drivers need it".

It offers some 500 vacancies from participating employers like FairPrice, SBS Transit and SMRT, among others. Permanent jobs include positions as full-time bus captains with SBS Transit and SMRT Buses, taxi and bus drivers with HDT Singapore, and postmen with SingPost. Temporary jobs include positions at the National Environment Agency, SingPost and HDT Singapore.

"NTUC's e2i has been mobilising our networks - working with associations, agencies and unions to match job vacancies with job seekers, including workers affected by COVID-19," said e2i Chief Executive Gilbert Tan. He encouraged businesses to look into alternative solutions that could enable workers to be redeployed.

One of these has been a food delivery trial between SMRT and food and beverage firm Fei Siong. Under the arrangement, drivers from SMRT Taxis will ferry around delivery assistants from Fei Siong, which, until this point, did not offer food delivery services.

Drivers will be block-booked for three hours, either from 11:00am to 2:00pm or 5:00pm to 8:00pm, during which they will be paid a fixed rate of $20 an hour that is co-paid by Fei Siong and SMRT Taxis. The trial will be launched from Fei Siong's outlet at Jurong Point and will be subsequently extended to its other outlets in Singapore. Fei Siong said food prices will not be raised, and delivery charges will be absorbed.

SMRT Taxis Driver Vincent Lee, 42, who is participating in the trial, said the additional income has helped ease his hardship since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. He usually does about 10 orders during each three-hour block. Before the outbreak, Mr Lee said he used to make 17 to 20 trips daily, but now does fewer than 10 trips. "The fixed income... definitely means a lot to individual drivers," he said.

NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng told reporters that plans were being developed to set up more such care centres to cater to other freelancers such as national coaches and instructors, and he hoped to have the plans ready by next week's debate on the supplementary budget.

"We have close to 40,000 freelancers that are already with NTUC. But as you know, we have close to about 200,000 self-employed persons and freelancers in Singapore. So there is still a wide space for us in these very unusual times to extend assistance and care to these workers, and importantly, provide a dignified way for them to continue to earn a wage."

Grab private-hire Driver Justin Lim has already signed up for courses in digital marketing and fundamentals of the Personal Data Protection Act. He used to drive a Toyota Noah for 12 to 13 hours and earn $300, before deducting the $90 daily rental. But now, for the same amount of time, he earns just $200, he said. The 49-year old, who is also a trained tour guide, said he hoped the training in digital marketing could help boost his credentials.