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EMPOWERING THE FREELANCE INDUSTRY

By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN

Photos by NOEL PABALATE

A recent report by International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that some 1.6 billion workers from the informal economy are in danger of losing their jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the Philippines, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reported that seven million Filipinos have been laid off from their jobs since the coronavirus hit the country. DOLE even raised the possibility that this number may blow up to 10 million by the end of the year.
ILO defines members of the informal economy in the Philippines as “independent, self-employed small-scale producers and distributors of goods and services. Workers in this sector are, for the most part, not covered by the country’s labor laws and regulations.”
Speaking of independent, self-employed individuals, the art industry is full of this type of workers—from painters and photographers, thespians and filmmakers to musicians and producers. These creatives are highly dependent on per-project income.

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The cast of Daluhong

Creative lawmaker to the rescue
To help the local freelance sector, Congressman Toff De Venecia has been rallying for the inclusion of freelance workers in part two of the Bayanihan Law. In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, he shares why he has been lobbying for this bill and how independent workers could benefit from it once it turns into a law.
Aside from being a lawmaker, it is no secret that Toff is also part of the freelance industry, where he works as a theater director and a producer. This is why he understands the struggle of independent creative workers. “I’ve always been familiar with the performing arts industry,” he says. “A show that I was producing got cancelled because of the quarantine. There’s another show that I was to direct for another company that was supposed to open May 1, that also got cancelled. I’m very familiar with the plight of the freelancer.”
Now Toff is working hard to make sure that freelance workers are included in the Accelerated Recovery and Investment Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines or ARISE Philippines Act, also known as part two of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.
Toff’s lobbying doesn’t just come from his personal experience in the industry. The young congressman has partnered with private and public organizations to gather data that show how this pandemic has hit Pinoy freelance workers.
“We’ve been working closely with the Film Development Council of the Philippines, and they’ve been maintaining a database of their workers who are in the audiovisual sector. It shows that they have 460,000 workers, of which 70 to 80 percent are considered freelance,” Toff says. “Aside from that, the National Live Events Coalition generates data among their ranks and they’ve been able to account for 400,000 workers, of which 80 to 85 percent are freelancers.”
Toff also added that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has provided financial assistance to 400,000 workers mostly composed of independent artists. 
Putting together all these numbers, Toff estimates that there are around one to 1.2 million freelancers in the country who stand to benefit from the stimulus act.

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Dani

Freelance assistance
Among the benefits included in the provision Toff is lobbying for is financial assistance. “During this quarantine, freelancers were not really prioritized,” he said. “We were pushing for 100 percent wage subsidy not only as a form of amelioration but as a form of stimulus.”
He says that this subsidy is equivalent to two months’ worth of salary based on the minimum wage pay. The congressman is hoping this aid would push freelancers to register themselves, which would also benefit them in the long run.
“The proposed wage subsidy for freelancers is basically an incentive for them to be able to register and formalize into an indoor economy, because for them to avail of this subsidy, it’s subject for application in DOLE,” he explains.

“This will also help our freelancers become fiscally responsible. As long as they escape the regulation of the state, they also escape the protection of the state especially in a time like this pandemic.”


The said stimulus act also aims to help the live events industry. Toff argues that our tourism economy is interconnected with the live events industry. Concerts and weddings, for example, drive profit to restaurants and hotels, thereby boosting income from tourism.
“It’s all sort of interconnected, and that’s why the live events industry needs representation. This industry needs to be able to make noise so that it can be part of the conversation and won’t get left behind,” he says. “That’s something we argued for and, thankfully, it was considered by the authors. At least those in the live events industry can qualify for assistance packages under tourism in the stimulus bill.”
He adds that they were also able to push for assistance for workers in the audio-visual sector. “In South Korea, audio-visual output is one of the top exports and that’s our dream for the Philippines as well,” says Toff, who is hoping for MalacaƱang’s approval of the bill. 


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/06/08/empowering-the-freelance-industry/)

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