International Asia Philippine Senate discusses Bill to protect the rights of freelancers

Philippine Senate discusses Bill to protect the rights of freelancers

Senator notes that freelance work is providing Filipinos who lost their jobs with an option to earn money during the pandemic

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Manila — During the Covid-19 pandemic, many Filipinos have turned up their industrious skills to full force, becoming their own bosses and starting new businesses, rendering services ranging from making and selling goods to teaching English online to students around the world.

Freelance workers — existing and new ones — are more numerous than ever before, contributing to the blossoming freelance industry in the nation.

On Tuesday (Sept 8), Senators Joel Villanueva and Bong Revilla introduced a Bill they co-sponsored to the Senate. The Senate Bill No. 1810, called the Freelancers Protection Act, called for government support and protection for freelancers’ rights, including receiving pay on time and holding delinquent clients accountable with fines.

Mr Villanueva, the chairman of the Senate committee on labour, noted that the Bill’s passage would be extremely key and timely, considering how much the pandemic has forced many more Filipinos to take up freelance work.

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In his sponsorship speech, he cited web development, encoding, graphic design, blogging, tutoring, online fitness coaching and telemedicine as emerging areas of freelance business.

According to the Bill, a “freelancer” is “any natural person who offers or renders a task, work, or service through his or her freely chosen means or methods, free from any form of economic dependence, control, or supervision by the client, regardless of whether he or she is paid by results, piece, task, hour, day, job, or by the nature of the services required”.

The Bill proposed that freelancers’ rights be observed and followed strictly. To begin with, freelancers should be given an official written contract or agreement by the client, clearly stating the work expected of the freelancer, the exact amount to be paid for the service and other important details.

Regarding compensation, freelancers must be paid the amount agreed upon and in a timely manner. The amount must be determined to be just compensation for the work or service provided.

All freelancers should be entitled to safe and healthy working conditions, and the work should be free from any type of discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse or violence.

The Bill noted that freelancers have the right to “self-organisation and collective negotiation” with the government, client, or other organisations for their benefits. They must also have social protection and social welfare benefits.

Freelancers must be allowed to have official representation and participation in political and social dialogues. They must have access to their own data, information, and resources for the protection of their rights and welfare.

They must have access to inexpensive and adequate financial services, specifically including collateral-free and gender-balanced credit at low interest rates. Freelance workers must also be given an official avenue for work-related grievances and complaints to be filed, and they must have alternative dispute resolution processes available to them.

Agencies called upon to support freelancers

The Bill called upon the Department of Labor and Employment to set specific standards for freelance work. Freelancers will also be encouraged, but not required, to register with the department for support and assistance.

Other departments were also mandated to provide support to freelance workers, including the following agencies: The Department of Information and Communications Technology, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Transportation, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

In terms of making processes easier for freelancers, the Bill tapped the Social Security System, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, the Home Development Mutual Fund and the Bureau of Internal Revenue to simplify registration processes, pare down requirements needed and give them better access to sickness and unemployment benefits.

The Bill details how clients should treat freelance workers. Payment for work or services rendered must be in full within 30 days of completion. Delinquent clients, including those who change the agreed-upon payment, change contracts after the fact and those who include a waiver on freelancers’ rights into contracts, will be given fines up to three times the contract price.

Philippine freelancers, who number more than 1.5 million and make up around 2 per cent of the population, ought to have legal recourse to deal with clients who go against their rights and who withhold payment, said Mr Villanueva.

Mr Revilla also spoke, noting that freelance work is providing Filipinos with an option to earn money during the pandemic, after many of them lost their jobs.

While most Philippine freelancers are between the ages of 24 and 39, Mr Villanueva said that “the changing landscape of employment and the global labor market now will also open opportunities for older, more mature workers to participate in the freelancing market”. /TISG

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