THE rise of technology and the internet has transformed the traditional concept of work. Just as the Industrial Revolution turned industries on their head, today’s technology boom promises to disrupt the workplace.
Traditional work models are becoming outdated. Work no longer needs to be associated with a place. The Internet has brought the work to the worker instead of the worker to the work, giving rise to so-called “online jobs.”
Why is online work disruptive? According to Stanford professor Ramesh Johari, “traditionally, the biggest friction for businesses in the labor market is the difficulty of finding an available worker with the skills needed. Online workplaces are removing this friction by opening up a flexible, global talent pool—helping the best-matched businesses and workers find each other when demand exists.”
Nowadays, businesses, particularly those in the services sector, no longer need to hire locally. They can find the best person to do anything anywhere. And in the Philippines, “anything” means online work as translators, data encoders, content writers, bloggers, virtual agents, web and mobile software developers, and graphic designers.
Online “freelancing” is quickly gaining traction in the country. The flexibility of working from home at any time of the day without having to endure the horrendous daily traffic or to spend money on office attire has attracted more and more Filipinos to join the online job bandwagon.
Gone are the days when work means having to endure the monotony of the “8 to 5” schedule, toxic coworkers and terror bosses. So long as they meet their client’s expected output and deadline, online freelancers can dictate when and how they work.
Based on the data from Freelancer.com, an online platform for freelancing jobs, and crowdsourcing marketplace for entrepreneurs, there are an estimated 800,000 Filipino freelancers working in data entry, Excel, copy typing, data processing, and article writing. Another freelance platform, Upwork (purportedly the world’s largest freelancing website), has more than 1.4 million registered Filipino users alone. A local online human resource management company estimates that there are more than a million full-time Filipino online workers.
There is such a huge number of our countrymen doing online work that the Philippines ranks second in Upwork’s Top 10 Earning Countries, with one million Filipinos reportedly earning P3.3 billion online in 2016. The country also ranks third in the Top Freelancer countries by gross services after India and the United States.
So how much and how do freelancers get paid? Salaries range from P5,000 to P15,000 for part-time workers while full-time workers can rake in as much as P60,000 or more every month. Online work portals have even touted how a programmer from Cavite earned an average of P20,547 a day in 2013, an annual income of P7.5 million while a writer from Gingoog City earned P2.6 million that same year.
Of course, online work is not without its downside. One of the pitfalls of online work is the limited chance of redress in case one is not paid for services rendered. If a freelancer is unable to collect payment from his “client,” the chances of recovering compensation are slim to none.
Most online job platforms will only stick to the “user agreement” accepted by the freelancer when he or she registered, which usually means the absconding client will only be barred from future transactions if found guilty. The fact remains, however, that the freelancer remains unpaid.
Louise, a Filipina freelancer, learned her lesson the hard way. A few years ago, Louise tried her hand at online freelancing, getting a job as a website administrator. Things went well at first, with Louise working with her foreign client via mail. She was paid $105 per week to build and finish the website. On her eighth month, just as the website was gaining traffic, her client suddenly stopped responding to her emails. Her attempts to reach the client proved futile. Since she had not been paid for her services, Louise filed a complaint with the freelancing portal, only to be informed later that she could not claim compensation because her case was not included in the portal’s payment protection program.
Another drawback of online work is the absence of social benefits. As independent contractors, online workers are not covered by our labor laws or labor standards. Online workers also do not receive benefits usually given to employees such as social security, health insurance, housing benefits and other common perks.
Moreover, as a freelancer, you are professionally (and sometimes, socially) isolate d since you have no interaction with management, staff or other employees. Most online workers also face the challenge of not having a fixed income. For one, competition is fierce in the online job market, especially in the Philippines. In certain online jobs, the freelancer has to compete with hundreds or even thousands of online jobseekers from around the globe. Thus, the revenue—and workload—from freelancing can vary from month to month and can be difficult to predict, making budgeting for families difficult.
And because online freelancing is a relatively new sector, authorities have been quite slow to respond to challenges in the virtual workplace. For instance, while the government has been quick to issue regulations requiring online workers to pay income taxes, there is no legislation or government regulations to protect online freelancers or workers from online job scams and unscrupulous customers and clients.
Perhaps the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) led by Secretary Rudy Salalima can spearhead the effort to enact measures to protect and promote the welfare of the million or so Filipino online workers.