‘Prone to abuse:’ Senators push for protection of freelancers

MANILA, Philippines — A bill seeking to institutionalize protections for freelance workers has now reached the Senate floor for deliberations.

Senator Joel Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, endorsed for plenary approval on Tuesday Senate Bill No. 1810 or the proposed Freelancers Protection Act.

“Unfortunately, the freelance sector is very much prone to abuse,” Villanueva said, adding that most freelancers are usually underpaid since they are not aware of how much they should charge for a certain project.

According to the senator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had previously admitted that “there is no labor protection accorded to freelancers and self-employed professionals.”

“Freelancers are not at all covered by any of our labor standards,” Villanueva added.

The senator cited a 2018 Global Freelancer Insights Report by PayPal which estimated that there are around 1.5 million Filipino freelance workers.

This is equivalent to around 2 percent of the country’s population, he noted, adding that 75 percent of Filipino range from the ages of 24 to 39.

“Indeed, more and more young people are attracted to this work arrangement. The reasons for this is obvious: the younger generations are not only tech-savvy which make them suited for ‘crowd work,’ but they also want flexibility and autonomy,” Villanueva said.

“In short, they are skewing the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs and choosing to be their own boss,” he added.

Stressing that freelancers are exposed to abuse, especially for “work on-demand” basis like jobs performed by photographers and make-up artists, the senator pointed to two instances wherein freelance workers were “cheated” by their clients.

Villanueva, citing an article published on Hongkong-based South China Morning Post, noted the case of a photojournalist, whose previous client had supposedly refused to pay him.

A Philippine newspaper had hired him for an advertising shoot, offering P15,000 pesos for the job, the senator said.

But the publication failed to “cough up” money despite more than a year of repeated attempts to secure payment, Villanueva added.

The senator cited another case of a make-up artist, who only received his payment for a project after more than eight months.

“It’s only because of his insistence to call the agency every week that they paid him,” Villanueva said.

The make-up artist, in another instance, was replaced for a wedding project and was not paid for the work he did for the pre-nuptial shoot, according to the senator.

Villanueva highlighted the absence of formal written contracts between clients and freelancers, which he said would place the freelance workers in a “situation where they have very little recourse through the law.”

But under the bill, Villanueva said the hiring party and the freelance worker will be required to enter into a written contract “reflecting the mutual consent of the parties to be bound by the terms and conditions of their freelance work engagement and the consideration for the services rendered by the freelancer.”

The bill also mandates the Department of Labor and Employment to “conduct seminars on the legal resources available to freelancers, and as far as practicable, encourage the parties to a freelancing agreement to avail of alternative dispute mechanisms.”

Further, Villanueva said the measure ensures the rights of a freelancer, including their right to affordable and adequate financial services, their right to education and skills training as well as social protection and social welfare benefits, among others.

“Bago pa man po ang COVID-19, halos 2-milyong Pilipino na ang nag-fre-freelance,” the senator said.

“Dahil sa pandemya, higit na marami pang nagkaroon ng interes sa freelance work. Napapanahon na po para kilalanin natin ang karapatan ng mga Pinoy freelancer,” he added.

Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. threw his support for the bill, saying that it would help freelance workers across the country, especially those who have been displaced by the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the rise in the number of freelance workers over the past years has allowed the sector’s active participation in various industries.

He also pointed out that with the advent of information and communication technology, thousands of online job prospects have been opened for Filipinos who seek to explore the convenience of working at home or any preferred workplace, a flexible time schedule, and the opportunity of working for foreign clients.

According to Revilla, the bill also seeks to create a registry of freelancers or freelancers association.

This will aid the government to gather accurate statistics and databases that will, in turn, allow it to reach them for the provision of support and assistance, he noted.

Several other senators also see the need to pass the said measure.

Senator Grace Poe said the bill is “very timely” while Senator Risa Hontiveros said the freelancers’ passion in their chosen profession should be properly compensated.

“I share the good sponsor’s full intention to extend the rights and welfare of the working people which are already covered by the Labor Code and the proposed measure,” Hontiveros said. [ac]

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