Freelancers ask clients to hasten delayed payments amid coronavirus lockdowns

ALBAY, Philippines – Groups of freelance writers and artists in the Philippines issued an appeal to companies and clients to hasten payments for projects – completed or not – as they face bleak prospects amid lockdowns put in place to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus disease. 

"I hope I'll get paid for services rendered for a project that we had already started," said a freelancer from Rizal province working in the animation film industry.

A theater talent from Parañaque City also hoped that "clients and ad agencies will pay us talents in full so we can use our hard earned money since there is a national crisis going on."

They were among 499 respondents in an online survey conducted among freelance artists by cultural workers at the Nayong Pilipino Foundation and CreativeAidPH. It showed that lost income and slow processing of payments were among the challenges they're facing during the pandemic.

The call for companies and clients to speed up payments to freelancers was echoed by Aimee Morales, president of the Freelance Writers of the Philippines.

Freelancers need lockdown funds because they do not have regular wages, she said in an appeal posted on Facebook. 

Breadwinners

Even before the pandemic, many freelancers have dealt with companies and clients that make them wait two to 6 months for payments. Some could wait a year while others never get paid at all. 

They're worried the quarantine measures and the indefinite postponement of projects will make the situation worse.

"There's a great chance that I will be left unpaid for the work that I already provided at this point," said a graphic designer from Las Piñas who responded to the online survey. 

"Basically, we live on debt. When our talent fees come, we just pay our debt. [There's] little to nothing left for our savings that we could actually use in this time of crisis," another freelancer was quoted.

Many freelancers are breadwinners. They are single parents, sole supporters of large families, and carers for elderly parents among others.

They have relied on their savings to support their family’s food and medication needs, but the extended quarantine measures have made it difficult for many to make ends meet. 

Demand for government intervention

Calls were made for the government to order companies with outstanding invoices to pay freelancers they've hired. 

"I hope that they can [urge] these companies to not hold our project/talent fees," one respondent said.

The online survey showed that lost income since January 2020 among the freelancers amounted to an average of P98,209 (about $1,925). It ranged from P2,000 (about $39) to a high of P3 million (about $58,800).

The freelancers also expect an average of P171,050 (about $3,300) in lost income – ranging from P5,000 (about $100) to P4.5 million (about $88,200) – "in the months to come."

Demand for NCCA assistance

The groups behind the survey also demanded assistance from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which they said could reallocate its budget to address the immediate needs of freelancers in the arts and culture sector.

An online petition on Change.org made this call to the NCCA. "Our cultural institutions are mandated to extend economic assistance to artists in times of crisis through the Republic Act 7356 creating the NCCA and the Duterte administration’s “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Law," the online petition said. 

The petition said the NCCA’s Annual Procurement Plan has sufficient funds for this purpose. It also supported the statement issued by the NCCA National Committee on Cinema on April 2. 

NCCA vowed to help affected cultural workers through the TUPAD #Barangay Ko, Bahay Ko (#BKBK) Program for freelance or self-employed artists and cultural workers. It's an arrangement with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), where qualified beneficiaries are entitled to receive 10 days worth of tax-free minimum wage.

Other displaced freelancers have applied for online jobs such offering to become an English tutor. – Rappler.com