Filipino workers: The generation of online freelancing

“WORK DIFFERENTLY.” “Love the way you work.” I have been an online freelance writer for three years now. I was a freshman law student looking for work to finance my school allowance. I tried to look for a tutorial job since it has been a “comfort zone” for me during my university years. Not finding a tutorial job meant saying good bye to younger students calling me “Teacher,” “Ate” or “Atsi.” I started browsing JobStreet and researching for work online, until I was advised that the solution might be there—online!

I started building my portfolio on an online platform. As a newbie in the community, it was difficult competing with other freelancers. I had to lower my rate and tried hard to please my clients, such that my friends would ask why I subjected myself to “consensual exploitation.” Luckily, I was able to build relationships with some clients who would initiate the contact whenever they had some projects that I could work on.

Online freelance work is based on trust, rather than on job contracts—that the freelance worker will submit a quality work on time, and that the client will pay the freelance worker upon submission. I had clients who later on became my “friends,” Skype-ing me on my birthday, telling me about their trips to Europe, Christmas celebrations, or simple school achievements. During Yolanda, a client even sent me a long email to show concern.

In a short period of time of working online, I realized that there is still a lot to improve in the online freelancing industry. The industry needs to be sustainable:

  1. Employer-employee relationship. Studying the Labor Code, a puzzle started to trivialize my thoughts on the work relationship between the client and the freelancer. There is the likelihood that freelance workers are not classified as “employees,” thus making them outside the protection of several labor benefits. The contractual stipulation would often define the freelancer as an “independent contractor” even if the four-fold test of an employer-employee relationship is satisfied.
  2. Social security and health benefits. I know a couple of freelance workers and there is usually one thing in common: We do not maintain our own Social Security System (SSS) account nor even have a health insurance. The negative impacts of not having an SSS or a PhilHealth account may not be noticeable until a person retires, gets sick with the need for hospitalization, or other fortuitous events.
  3. Security of tenure. On the online platform that I first worked with, I have lost jobs and clients like I have lost my room and locker keys. In the traditional form of work within the ambit of the Labor Code, security of tenure is guaranteed and a worker may only be dismissed for just and authorized causes. In online freelancing industry, the causes of termination are most often discretionary on the part of the clients.
  4. Unsecured payments and compensation. As of this writing, I have probably had more or less a hundred pages of unpaid work. It is part of the risk that freelancers have to take.

Despite the negative factors of online freelancing, I would still rate it positively. On a national scale, online freelancing has fed families, and “employed” individuals who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. Freelancing helped me deal with tough work deadlines while studying for the daily grind of law school. Freelancing allowed the 24/7 green dot on my Facebook chat box while my legs were trembling and fingers shaking, while trying to vomit words to meet the page count for the last 30 minutes of work before it is considered late. I dream of the day when the online freelancing industry is safeguarded with legal protection. I dream of the day when every online Filipino freelancer is proud to say that “I work differently and I love the way I work.” P

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