Senate takes up bill protecting freelancers

A bill seeking to protect the rights of freelance workers has reached the Senate plenary, initiating the concluding salvo of discussions to finalize the proposed measure before its passage.

Senators Joel Villanueva and Bong Revilla on Tuesday, September 8, co-sponsored Senate Bill no. 1810, called the “Freelancers Protection Act.”

Both lawmakers cited the current lack of government protection and support for freelance workers, a sector that has grown significantly, and was expected to grow even more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill defines freelancers as “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.”

Among freelancers’ rights enumerated in the proposed measure were:

  • Written contract or agreement;
  • Just compensation;
  • Safe and healthy working conditions;
  • Self-organization and collective negotiation with the government, client, or other entities for their welfare;
  • Freedom from any form of discrimination, violence, sexual harassment, and abuse;
  • Representation and participation in making policies and social dialogue;
  • Access to their own data, information, and resources for the protection of their rights and welfare;
  • Affordable and adequate financial services, including collateral-free and gender-balanced credit at low interest;
  • Social protection and social welfare benefits;
  • Speedy redress of grievances, including alternative dispute resolution processes.

The bill mandated the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to set standards for freelance work, including what contracts should contain.

Other agencies including 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 are to support freelancers in starting and sustaining their careers.

The bill encouraged freelancers to register with the DOLE for “labor market interventions and assistance.” This registration “shall not be construed as a requirement to be able to engage as a freelancer,” the proposed measure states.

Under the bill, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was to “simplify and automate” the registration process and minimize requirements for freelancers. The Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and Home Development Mutual Fund were to also simplify online registration for freelancers, and make access to sickness and unemployment benefits easier for them.

The bill required clients to pay freelancers in full within 30 days of the completion of their work. (READ: Freelancers ask clients to hasten payments amid coronavirus lockdowns)

Clients who alter contracts midstream, deduct from the agreed compensation, or who insert a waiver of the freelancers’ rights into the contract would be fined up to thrice the contract price. Any waiver of the rights stipulated in the proposed measure is deemed void.

In his sponsorship speech, Villanueva noted many instances in which freelancers were denied the payment due them, but had no legal recourse against their clients.

Villanueva said a respondent in an informal survey he conducted defined freelancing as “discharging the force of your skills into work you love.”

“This interpretation is not far from many people’s impression of freelancers – people who follow their passion in life even if they earn so little, if at all. What’s important is they enjoy their work,” Villanueva added.

Citing the 2018 Global Freelancer Insights Report by PayPal, the senator said there are at least 1.5 million Filipino freelance workers, making up roughly 2% of the population. Majority or 75% of them are between the ages of 24 and 39.

For his part, Revilla said making freelance work more viable will provide an option for people displaced from their jobs by the pandemic.

A bill protecting freelancers was filed in September 2016 by then-Senator Bam Aquino. A counterpart measure is now pending at the House of Representatives. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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