House panel OKs Freelance Workers bill

The House Committee on Ways and Means has recently passed a measure that seeks to provide legal and contractual protection for freelance workers such as content writers, artists, and even wedding planners.

House Bill 1527, titled An Act Protecting Freelance Workers in the Gig Economy Sector, authored by Albay Rep, Joey Sarte Salceda, who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. aims to protect the interest of ‘freelancers’ in instances where their employers refuse to pay them for the services they rendered, or similar such cases.

The Labor Code currently does not define freelancing and provides no formal contractual framework for Filipinos working under this category, who already number about 1.5 million prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Salceda said the bill provides protection for aggrieved parties who can file complaints to appropriate agencies, and specifies penalties for any violation of the worker’s rights. The proposal makes it unlawful to delay freelancers’ compensation beyond 15 days from what is stated in the contract or, in cases where there is no written contract, after the service is rendered.

HB 1527 also takes into account, the ease of doing business for freelancers, making it easier for them to register with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and other government agencies, and ensures that they are not inconvenienced by red tape and that they are protected from difficult, even fraudulent clients, he explained.

“In our age of millennialism, interconnectivity activities, instantaneous global communication and creative entrepreneurship with internet based work, we can only expect a growing pool of workers who do not need to report to office but rather work from home or in a creative stationary set up,” Salceda said.

“Freelancing has already become the lifeline for millions of Filipinos, especially those who lost their regular jobs during the pandemic. As the economy becomes more digital, there will be more freelancing. Without legal protections, we will also see more labor exploitations,” he noted.

Salceda said freelancing is the natural consequence of the trend towards digital transformation and shift to working from home, and “freelancers will be like work-from-home OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) in the future, because as the world grows more digitally-connected, millions of freelancers will have the chance to earn foreign currency while staying in the country. In fact, thousands already do. There is great potential in this sector,” he added.

“There is thus a need to ensure that the labor issues in other sectors now do not spill over to this promising sector,” he stressed. The House Committee on Labor and Employment had initially approved the measure.

Salceda said “freelancing” which represents a shift from the old term ‘part time job,’ is no longer a part time state but a chosen work arrangement — working on contract basis for a variety of companies at one’s own phase and time, as oppose to working as employee for a single company with a number of hours to complete the required time.

“Freelancers are often considered as self-employed, and have the freedom to pick and choose their projects and companies they would like to be associated with,” he said, adding that with more and more freelancers in the country,  the government is confronted with an urgent need to protect this new sector and empower them with ease of doing business.

“For many intelligent and skilled Filipinos with marketable services and strong network, it is a long term career option. Most of them now prefer to submit their work and services to many different places, without being tied to any one company in particular,” he pointed out.

Salceda, however, said that apart from better work-life balance, the ability to choose work hours and clients and unlimited income potential, freelancing has its own challenges including the risk of non-payment for their work by bad and opportunist employers.

It is for this reason, he said, that this bill is sought, to give freelancers the power to demand from their employers what they are rightfully due as per their agreement.

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