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PROTECT FREELANCERS FROM EXPLOITATION – VILLANUEVA

The Senate is rushing legislation that will put a “mantle of protection” on some 1.5 million freelancers and gig economy workers whose numbers ballooned during the pandemic.

Senator Joel Villanueva, the labor committee chair who is spearheading the codification of their rights, said freelancers are the most vulnerable from abuse and exploitation.

Part of the reason, the veteran legislator explained, is “the gaping hole in our laws that have yet to assign rights to this new class of workers”.

Current labor laws, the seasoned lawmaker said, were written ages before app-based food delivery and courier riders, home-based creative workers, and work-on-demand professionals came to being.

“Historically, laws always play catch-up with technology. In the case of freelancers, laws that protect them are way behind the curve,” the senator said.

He said there is a “huge vacuum to be filled on protection entitlements that these workers should receive”.

“The Constitution mandates that the rights of workers be upheld.”

The Constitution, Villanueva said, mandates that rights of workers be upheld.

“That call is universal. It does not discriminate as to what kind of workers,” he stressed.

One important rule that must be set refers to the health and safety of gig economy workers.

“Isa po rito ang mga riders natin na kahit umulan at bumagyo o laganap ang iba’t-ibang variant ng COVID ay parang may oras na hinahabol. Dahil may quota na hinahabol at multang iniiwasan, malapit po sila sa disgrasya o pagkahawa,” Villanueva said.

The Freelancers Protection Act that he authored and sponsored defines freelancer as a “person who renders a task, work or service through his or her freely chosen means and methods, free from any forms of economic dependence, control or supervision by the clients, regardless of whether they are paid by results, piece, task, hour, day, job or by the nature of the service required”.

Among the rights proposed under the Villanueva measure, or Senate Bill No. 1810, are:

  • Just compensation and equal remuneration for work of equal value without manipulation or distinction of any kind;
  • Safe and healthy working conditions;
  • Self-organization and to collectively negotiate with the government, client and other entities for the promotion of their welfare and in advancement of their rights and interests;
  • Protections against any form of discrimination, violence, sexual harassment, and abuse;
  • Affordable and adequate financial services; and
  • Social protection and social welfare benefits

The bill also mandates payment for work done not later than 30 days from completion of tasks.

“We are also putting in ironclad guarantees against contract alterations, especially the arbitrary reduction of fees.”

He added, “we are also putting in ironclad guarantees against contract alterations, especially the arbitrary reduction of fees”.

While the Philippines is a hotspot for freelance work, with freelancers expected to form the majority of the labor force in 10 years, “the DOLE is at a loss of how to treat them,” Villanueva said.

In one of the Senate hearings, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III admitted that there is no law extending labor protection to freelancers and self-employed professionals.

“Three in four freelancers belong to the 24-39 years age group, and two out of three are women,” Villanueva explained.

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