Time to formally protect workers in the gig economy

The gig economy is defined as a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Throughout history, the gig economy is a vital one, with gig workers (aka freelancers) taking up temporary or project-based work. They are hired to complete a particular task or for a certain period of time. There is no formal employer-employee relationship, and compensation is given after the fulfillment of agreed upon project deliverables.

The pandemic has expanded the number of workers in the gig economy. Many Filipinos were laid off in their formal employment, compelling them to find alternative sources of income. Soon, they became delivery riders, rideshare drivers, online assistants, personal shoppers, etc.

In most instances, while the pay is enough to get by, there are risks involved, affecting their safety and sometimes, their lives.

It is not surprising to learn about accidents of rideshare drivers or delivery riders. Day in, day out, we read about how riders were sideswiped by a truck on the road, hit by an incoming vehicle, or involved in an accident caused by road hazards.

A week ago, we learned about the plight of a delivery rider who was found dead while resting on his motorcycle. His story is just one of the many tragedies in this line of work.

While work-related accidents or adverse health effects may be inevitable in whatever kind of profession one is involved in, there should be adequate protection provided to these gig workers. This is the gist behind Senate Bill 1373, or the Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders, at Raketera (POWERR) Act, which seeks to “protect the rights and welfare of gig economy workers that include delivery riders and freelancers, who are getting low pay with precarious conditions at work.”
This bill was filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, who urged her colleagues to “immediately pass this measure.”

In her proposal, Hontiveros said measures that could possibly protect gig economy workers include their enrollment in government social protection programs such as PhilHealth, SSS, and Pag-IBIG, etc.
She also proposed that online platforms that secure services of independent contractors shall be “held liable for injuries sustained by workers in the performance of their duty, particularly delivery riders.”
Hontiveros’ bill is one of the proposals to formally protect the gig workers. Another is from Senator Joel Villanueva, whose Senate Bill 136 is the Freelancers Protection Act. The senator is pushing to secure the rights and welfare of some 1.5 million gig economy workers in the Philippines, whose numbers are expected to rise as the country recovers from the pandemic.

He added that the Philippines ranked as the sixth fastest growing market in the world for the gig economy according to the 2018 Gig Economy Index.

“As the numbers of freelance workers continue to increase, it has become more apparent that this new class of workers require protection from new laws, with due regard to the special nature of their engagement which makes them more prone to abuse and exploitation," he said.

“We have heard stories of freelance workers and independent contractors being abused and exploited for projects only to be underpaid, receive delayed payments after a year, or not be paid at all. Freelancing isn't for free."

Gig worker or not, every human being deserves the full protection of the law — more so for Filipino workers who are earning a decent living, toiling each day under the sun, and working their fingers to the bone.