Freelancers get timely boost in Senate

Published September 9, 2020, 11:34 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Senate is set to start plenary discussions on the bill that seeks to protect freelance workers.


Senator Joel Villanueva, chairperson of the Senate Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, endorsed on Tuesday the passage of Senate Bill No. 1810 or the proposed “Freelance Protection Act”.

In his sponsorship speech, the senator said it is high time to institutionalize measures that would recognize and protect freelance workers especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the prolonged imposition of community quarantines.

“We have realized the variety of jobs that can be performed at home using the internet, like tutoring, encoding, blogging, graphic designing, web development, internet research, online fitness coaching, telemedicine, just to name a few,” Villanueva said.

“The situation urges us to clearly define, regulate, and harness freelancing, which is a dynamic concept, partly because the kind of work that freelancers perform, and the services they provide continuously evolve,” he told his colleagues.

He cited the Global Freelancer Insights Report by PayPal which estimated that there were around 1.5 million Filipino freelance workers. It was also projected the freelance market was expected to grow further, with more Filipinos “expecting more work opportunities to come their way” especially, “freelance work from overseas”, he said.

“Unfortunately, the freelance sector is very much prone to abuse,” Villanueva said, saying that for the longest time, a “freelancer” has not been defined in any of the existing laws in the country.

Most freelancers are also underpaid, he lamented.

Villanueva said that Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III had previously admitted that there were no labor protection measures currently accorded to freelancers and self-employed professionals.

“Freelancers are not at all covered by any of our labor standards,” Villanueva said.

“This bill aspires to give assurance to all freelance workers that they also have labor rights under the law,” he added.

Villanueva said that the SB No. 1810 seeks to cover “all freelancers, regardless of profession, talent, skills, task, work, or service required or rendered.”

It defines a freelancer 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 forms 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 also enumerates the rights of a freelancer, including, but not limited to: Standards for freelance work; Right to access their own data and information; Right to affordable and adequate financial services; Right to education and skills training; Right to social protection and social welfare benefits; Right to simplified tax registration, filing and payment system; and right to redress of grievances, including alternative dispute resolution processes.

Under the bill, the hiring party and the freelance worker shall be required to enter into a written agreement “reflecting the mutual consent of the parties to be bound by the terms and conditions of their freelance work engagement and the consideration for the services rendered by the freelancer.”

To address the lack of knowledge on the legal remedies for them, the Department of Labor and Employment shall also be mandated to “conduct seminars on the legal recourses available to freelancers, and as far as practicable, encourage the parties to a freelancing agreement to avail of alternative dispute mechanisms.”

Senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., co-authors to the bill, also pushed for the approval of the “very timely” piece of legislation.

“Not only will it help plug in some of the gaps in our social protection systems that were revealed during the pandemic, such as a formal register of freelance workers across the country, it will also provide a solid labor rights foundation for a growing segment of the workforce,” Angara said.

“I sincerely believe that this is the perfect time to enact a law that will promote and protect freelance workers.  Prior to the pandemic, we have already seen the competence and anticipated growth of Filipinos in freelance work.  Now that COVID-19 brought new challenges to our people, freelance work offers viable and safe option to those who lost their jobs or who opts to shift their careers,” Revilla, for his part, said.

Other senators also threw their support for the passage of the bill.

Villanueva said the proposed “Freelance Protection Act” will supplement the current Telecommuting Act.