FREELANCE WORKER. A delivery service rider prepares to deliver food items to his clients near SM Dasmarinas City, Cavite on Wednesday (Nov. 23, 2022). Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte is calling for the passage of a law that seeks to recognize and protect the rights of freelancers like couriers and delivery riders, along with millions of other workers identified as “independent contractors.” (PNA photo by Gil Calinga)

MANILA – Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte on Wednesday underscored the importance and urgency of passing a law protecting the rights and welfare of freelance workers following a National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) ruling that held a company liable for illegal dismissal of its delivery riders.

Duterte said the legal dispute between the company and the delivery riders would not have reached this far had there been a law safeguarding the rights of freelancers from abuse and exploitation.

““We won’t be commenting on the details of the case as this is still a continuing legal battle between the two parties. What we would like to point out, though, is that this issue has highlighted the lack of protection and benefits for freelancers. This could be corrected by passing a pending measure in Congress that squarely addresses this longstanding concern in our fast-growing gig economy,” Duterte said.

The lawmaker was referring to the case filed by seven delivery riders in Davao City against the operator of a leading app-based food delivery platform.

The riders, represented by the Davao United Delivery Riders Association Inc. (DUDRAI), said they were illegally dismissed by the company by suspending them and barring them from using its mobile app for 10 years.

The riders had also been calling for transparency on how their pay was calculated by the company before their termination.

In a ruling handed down last month, the NLRC affirmed its Labor Arbiter’s decision stating that an employer-employee relationship existed between the company and the riders. Thus, the NLRC said the termination of the riders and barring them from using the company’s mobile app for 10 years is tantamount to “constructive dismissal,” and upheld the Labor Arbiter’s award of monetary claims to the riders.

The company is reportedly set to appeal the NLRC ruling.

A number of proposed bills seeking to protect these kinds of workers have already been filed earlier with the Senate and the House of Representatives, all pending for approval.

Among these bills is House Bill No. 3738 which Duterte filed along with Benguet Rep. Eric Yap and ACT-CIS Partylist Reps. Edvic Yap and Jeffrey Soriano.

HB 3738 aims to recognize and protect the rights of freelancers like couriers and delivery riders, along with millions of other workers identified under the measure as “independent contractors.”

“In the absence of a law providing them protection from abuse, many freelancers are hired with vague and unclear conditions, leaving them to fend off for themselves in instances when payments for their services are delayed, unreasonably reduced, or worse, not given to them at all,” Duterte said.

To shield them from these unfair labor practices, Duterte said HB 3738 would mandate written contracts in obtaining the services of freelancers, along with night differential and hazard pay that shall be provided whenever applicable.

The bill also makes it unlawful to commit any form of retaliation arising from the acts of freelancers meant to protect their rights as workers.

To ensure that freelancers receive just compensation for services rendered, the bill also makes it unlawful for a hiring party to pay them later than 15 days after the stated payment date in their contracts; or require them to accept less than the specified contract price as a condition for receipt of compensation, Duterte said.

Under the bill, written contracts in hiring freelancers should include: the itemization of all services to be provided; details of compensation and other benefits, including rate, method and schedule of payment; period of employment; grounds for breach of contract on the part of both the hiring party and the freelancer; and the Tax Identification Number (TIN) of the freelancer.

Freelancers are covered by the tax relief provisions under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law and the Barangay Micro Business Enterprises Act under HB 3738.

The Philippines ranks 6th among countries with the fastest-growing market for freelancers, according to the 2019 Global Gig Economy Index of the financial services provider Payoneer.

Payoneer said this growth has contributed to a 35-percent rise in freelance earnings.

Independent estimates show that there are about 1.5 million to 2 million Filipino freelancers in the country. (PNA)