Freelancers: Accident Insurance to Cover Individuals in All Industries

An increasing number of people are undertaking work as freelancers, without belonging to companies. As diverse working styles expand these days, it is essential to create an environment in which individuals can work with peace of mind.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry will revise a framework so that freelancers who work under an outsourcing contract with companies will be covered by workers’ accident compensation insurance in all industries. The change is scheduled to be in effect by autumn next year.

Workers’ accident compensation insurance is a government program originally established to provide workers employed by companies with money for medical fees and compensation for their absence from work, among other benefits, in the event of injury or illness while on the job. The insurance premiums are paid by employers.

Freelancers are treated as sole proprietors, and those in a limited number of industries, such as construction, have been allowed to enroll in the program as special cases on the condition that they pay their own insurance premiums.

However, with the spread of the internet and other factors making it easier for individuals to get work, freelancers are spreading into a variety of fields, including sales and teaching. Companies have been actively promoting the use of freelancers as flexible workers for whom companies do not have to perform such tasks as managing their working hours.

The expansion of the special enrollment of individuals is intended to protect these freelancers against the possibility of accidents occurring on the way to their workplaces or getting injured while on the job. It is natural, it can be said, for the program to be revised to protect workers in line with the changing times.

As a result of this change, a total of more than 2.7 million freelancers are expected to be eligible to join workers’ accident compensation insurance. Some may be wondering whether they should join the program. The government should thoroughly inform freelancers about insurance premiums and the scope of compensation, among other matters.

Although this is a different case from the special enrollment, a male freelance worker under an outsourcing contract with online retailer Amazon Japan to deliver its packages was recognized in September as having suffered a work-related injury when he was hurt while on the job. Based on the nature of his work, he was judged to be working under the direction of the delivery company he contracted with.

This indicates that even freelance workers under contract must be protected in the same way as company employees if they are under the direction and orders of the companies that commission their work.

Freelancers who receive work from companies tend to be in a weaker position. It is vital for companies to promote work on an equal footing, rather than treating them as convenient workers.

A new law concerning freelancers has been enacted with the aim of making transactions more appropriate, for example, by requiring companies to clearly state the amount of remuneration. However, these workers have unstable income, and are not compensated if they take days off for childcare or nursing care.

The government has been promoting diverse and flexible work styles. It has a responsibility to make efforts to ensure that freelance workers can use their abilities to the fullest and live without anxiety.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 29, 2023)