House bills seek to protect freelance workers amid COVID-19 pandemic

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 26 2020 11:12 PM

MANILA - As more Filipinos are expected to turn to freelance work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the House Subcommittee on Labor Relations tackled the bills seeking to protect freelance workers.

“With the pandemic hitting our economy hard and thousands of workers projected to lose their jobs… the number of freelancers is expected to grow even higher. More individuals will most likely turn to freelance work to earn a living and more business owners are anticipated to look into hiring freelance workers to cut on labor costs and to address seasonality of demand,” Subcommittee chair Rep. Michael Aglipay said.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) expressed support for the proposed measures, but asked Congress to be careful with the language used in the legislation to prevent it from being abused by the hiring party.

“Some of our social partners in the employment and management sector may try to avail of this well-intentioned law to work out independent contracts with masons, carpenters, who have no bargaining power, and no leverage,” TUCP vice president Luis Corral said.

“We are flagging the concern that there might be misclassification of functions such that even activities necessary and desirable to the company or core to the function of the company might be subjected to independent contracts,” he added.

But Aglipay assured Corral that his concern is addressed by the bill’s definition of independent contractors. 

The proposed measure seeks to provide hazard pay and night shift differential to freelancers. The Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI) expressed reservations to these provisions for freelance workers in the movie and television industries.

“It is regular practice to schedule night shoots… We feel that adding a 10 percent night differential would unduly burden everyone in the industry, and it will inhibit growth in the production,” DGPI’s Paolo Villaluna said, noting that very few freelancers in the film industry are minimum wage earners. He added that the industry is also considering providing overtime pay.

Aglipay then proposed to mandate the payment of night differential only to freelancers who earn a maximum of P30,000 a month.

“Freelancers who are required to be physically present in the workplace or those on field assignments, and who earn a maximum total monthly compensation of P30,000 a month, shall be paid a night shift differential of not less than 10% of his/her compensation for the day that he or she performed his work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” he said.

“Mahirap i-implement. It will require the independent contractor to disclose all compensation. If he tells me I’m not earning more than P30,000, how will we check?” Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association’s Alex Cruz asked.

Aglipay said since the film and TV industry is small, it should not be difficult to determine whether an independent contractor is earning more than P30,000.

DGPI’s Carlos Siguion-Reyna, meanwhile, expressed concern over the mandatory hazard pay, saying the rates for hazardous assignments in the film and television industry are already usually higher.

“For example, stunt actors, usually it’s higher than the normal rate of actors, I believe. It’s kind of built in there. Talents can always refuse hazardous assignments if they don’t get their higher pay anyway. There’s a built in impetus to raise the rates if it’s a dangerous assignment,” he said.

“If the producer is so burdened, I'm just concerned that there will be less production activities and less jobs,” Siguion-Reyna added, noting that the pandemic has already increased production cost by up to 30 percent.

“When we pass legislation, it’s really with the presumption of regularity. So it’s supposed to be considering provisions outside of a pandemic,” Subcommittee vice chairperson and author of the bill, Rep. Christopher De Venecia said.

“There’s wisdom in institutionalizing a hazard pay because it’s already being practiced,” he added.

The Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines supports De Venecia’s position.

De Venecia asked stakeholders, including the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), to submit a position paper on the proposed night differential and hazard pay for freelancers. These will be tackled again in the hearing of the House Committee on Labor and Employment.