FOOT traffic was already ankle deep when Elias Amurao (not his real name) stopped at an intersection on the way to the train station one rainy Friday evening.
He sighed, walked as the crowd did and braced himself for the ride home for an hour inside a cramped train and a jeepney ride. He settled with the thought it would only be school work until Tuesday. Amurao’s a freelancer, one of nearly a million young Filipinos who walk into the cauldron of the labor force every year. Majority of them are under 30. And, as freelancers, most of them form what is called the “gig economy.”
According to Economics Professor Aldrin P. Atienza, the “gig economy is simply the unorthodox way of the economy to grow with the help of temporary or non-full-time employees in the economy.”
“This may include those workers that [have] other sources of income such as freelancing and part-time work,” Atienza, who teaches at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), said. “In the macroeconomic sense, however, it is greatly influenced by the increase in the purchasing capabilities of the said individuals in an economy.”
For the UST College of Commerce and Business Administration faculty member, “freelancers and part-time professionals are among the most common participants in the gig economy.”
“I’d like to highlight the fact that though they are not working full time in the said job, they are working ‘professionally’ and are finishing multiple tasks as if taking a regular 8-to-5 job,” Atienza added. “Those who are drivers of Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) as well as part-time instructors for universities are considered to be participants of the said gig economy.”
ATIENZA said, however, that freelancers came before the emergence of drivers for TNVS, e.g., Uber and Grab. He believes freelancers, or “gig” workers for that matter, peaked with the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
“As the Philippines gained more exposure internationally, the higher the cost for hiring a new employee became. Thus, with the rising costs, alternatives to getting menial work done [were] needed,” Atienza explained. “Part-time employees tend to be more flexible and cheaper than full-time employees.”
He added that most of these employees were young people.
Atienza estimates—sans citing sources—there are at least 1.5 million online freelancers in the Philippines, most of them aged 24 to 35. And with more and more millennials demanding flexibility and independence, most definitely, freelancing will steadily grow, he added.
Atienza said he personally knows individuals whose main source of income is generated from freelance work.
“I think it has the highest flexibility in terms of work and life balance, which makes it even more attractive,” he told the BusinessMirror. “However, as most jobs are, it takes years of experience and hard work in order to make a living as it is in any industry.”
ALREADY in his senior year as a Psychology major in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Amurao juggles his time between his studies and a character-designing gig for a parody animation titled “RaPal’s Dark Res.”
Two years ago, he worked for a BPO firm located somewhere in Manila.
“I chose to work because we had a financial crisis in the family; to help my mother earn back her business,” he said.
The 19-year-old told the BusinessMirror he dropped the BPO work for a second gig, which he only “tried out as a way of applying my self-learned skills in vector graphics software.”
“In doing the character-designing gig, I worked in my own bedroom. The environment was just the same as when you’re inside [an office],” he said. “There’s no pressure until you see your calendar and you’re a day away from your deadlines. Ha-ha!”
Amurao added: “Usually as a freelancer, I think it really depends who you work for when choosing jobs to work on.”
According to him, he was a character designer first before going into background design.
“[That] isn’t really my forte but since I am not that assertive I just did what I was asked to do,” Amurao said.
He said it’s difficult when responsibilities in work and at school pile up at the same time.
“I do feel stressed all the time, especially when there are both deadlines to meet at freelance work and at school,” Amurao said.
To cope, he said he goes into binge-watching and “scrolling eternally in social media” after working on both work and school.
ACCORDING to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the labor force has been getting younger.
In January, the PSA recorded that more than 60 percent of the population 15 years old and over are in the labor force. This means that six in 10 of the population aged 15 years and over were either employed or unemployed.
The data places the labor force participation rate (LFPR) at 62.2 percent.
The country’s total number of employed persons is pegged at 41.8 million. Around 61.7 percent of the total employed persons were wage and salary workers. Those who worked in private establishments made up 48.7 percent, and those working in government and government-controlled corporations were accounted at 8.1 percent.
About 27.7 percent of the total employed persons were self-employed without any paid employee or those who were engaged in self-employment. The unpaid family workers made up 6.9 percent and the employer in own family-operated farm or business, 3.6 percent, the PSA data reveals.
Two-thirds of the total employed persons are full-time workers comprised of 63.6 percent while the rest, part-time (35.2 percent). The latter are defined as people with a job but not at work (1.2 percent).
ACCORDING to Atienza, “by definition, freelancers are considered ‘underemployed’.”
The government, by way of the PSA, defines the underemployed as persons “who express the desire to have additional hours of work in their present job or an additional job, or have a new job with longer working hours.”
The PSA data revealed that 44.6 percent of the underemployed worked in the services sector while 32.2 percent were in the agriculture sector; about 19.2 percent were made up by the industry sector. As of January, the visibly underemployed or the underemployed —persons who work for less than 40 hours in a week—make up more than half (57.1 percent) of the total underemployed. Persons who work more than 40 hours or more in a week made up 41.1 percent.
Atienza considers these persons as forming the bulk of the gig economy that he also sees as growing with the entry of millennials.
“A big influence to this is the rising number of millennials who are looking for a more flexible way of working,” he explained. “The popularity of ‘home-based’ earning as well as the lifestyle of ‘travel and work’ has greatly influenced the desire of millennials to work under the gig economy.”
ATIENZA added inflation is also spurring this phenomenon.
“Also, with the rising costs of basic goods in the country, all individuals are now looking for various means to support the needs of their family.”
But Atienza said the growth of the gig economy is also its downside.
“However, the rise in the number of freelancers would mean a rise in competition, thus affecting prices of projects available in the market,” he told the BusinessMirror. “There are a number of factors that are much needed in order to keep this economy alive.”
Atienza said some of these factors include infrastructure (Internet speed and connectivity), technology (evolution in apps and programs), culture (rise of millennials and zillinials) and government support (issue against TNVS and online lodging sites).
ACCORDING to Antonio M. Del Carmen of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP), the country’s advantage is its youth.
Del Carmen, president of NICP, said in a news briefing late July that compared to other Southeast Asian countries, “we have a very young population and this industry [information and communications technology] needs that type of service.”
“So I think as far as competitiveness is concerned, yes, talent is number one and that is what we should push for,” Del Carmen said. “The Filipinos are good with this industry [ICT] and that is what we want to capitalize on—our talent asset.”
Del Carmen, however, is looking at economies outside Metro Manila.
“Right now, there are 300,000 employees in the industry outside Metro Manila. That is P3.6 billion revenue per month outside the country,” he said during the launch of the digitalcitiesPH portal on July 20.
The portal, according to documents provided by Del Carmen, is a platform where local officials in the country could promote their respective local government unit (LGU) by identifying the capacity of local talents, infrastructure, cost and ease of doing businesses and digital readiness.
“And if you multiply that, in the multiplier effect for other sectors [like] transportation, commerce, housing, that is times seven,” he said. “So [that would have a big] impact in the countryside. So, a city or a town, a sleepy town outside Metro Manila, you now have that opportunity.”
FOR Del Carmen, the growth of the gig economy outside Metro Manila is more important. He compares this to the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) phenomenon.
“I compare it to an OFW situation where our countrymen go outside the country,” he said. “Ang nangyayari naman ngayon [What is happening now is] people in the provinces are coming to Metro Manila.”
He believes the latter leads to depreciation “in the quality of life; the balance of life.”
“If we are able to develop this [regional gig economy] and bring this to the countryside, quality of life will be better for all,” Del Carmen said. “You don’t have to leave your family in the provinces because jobs will be brought to the countryside. I think that is a key component of what we are trying to do. We are bringing jobs to the country.”
Josevy A. Taguibao of the University of Santo Tomas believes not everything about the gig economy is hunky-dory.
“Some people stick to their jobs even if they are not happy because the job satisfies their financial needs or fear of career change,” Taguibao, a Psychology instructor, told the BusinessMirror.
She referred to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She further explained there are factors affecting job performance of an employee besides flexibility of time: fair compensation, sense of job security and sense of belongingness, among others.
Taguibao said a freelancer may also fail to meet other needs that a 9-to-5 job offers, like interpersonal relationships in the organization and the chance for career growth and recognition. Hence, she said, a lot of the freelancer’s success is relative to personal motivation.
“Freelancing is okay, especially if it becomes an outlet,” she said citing a close friend, who is a software engineer in an ICT company, as an example.
Taguibao said while her friend works according to a routine, “his chance to grow is limited” if he sticks to one employer.
“But because of his freelance work, like handling the system of a particular company, he gets the chance to widen his experience and explore the other aspects of software development,” she said, adding that the freelance work also generates extra income.
STUDENTS with so-called “rackets” also help shape the gig economy.
Mary Joy Bautista, a fourth-year architecture student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, currently manages her small arts and design business called Project Dream. Bautista maintains a small store in Quezon City.
She told the BusinessMirror she intends to pursue both her intended college program as a freelance architect and at the same time manage her small business.
“You need to be practical. If I can earn from both, why not?,” Bautista said. “My dreamcatchers are related with arts and design, which are handmade.”
She credits the current K-12 curriculum as one of the factors that helped the growth of the gig economy.
Most businesses today do not require college graduates or undergraduates as employees, according to Bautista.
For Bautista, communication abilities, experience and skills are important in the gig economy as these helped her grow her small business. Still, Bautista plans to obtain a license as an architect and improve her business.
AN entrepreneur selling photography services for additional income agrees with Bautista.
The person who requested anonymity said the number of photographers hired is relative to the scale of the event a principal who hires him requires. While managing a photo-printing shop, he also hires extra photographers based on fees.
“Since occasional naman ’yung photo coverages for big events, I tap my nephews or friends,” he said, noting that layout and printing of the photographs are done in the shop. “This way we can cut or reduce costs.”
Sometimes he takes on the project personally for extra income, but sometimes outsources the contract.
“Minsan tulong na lang din sa kanila ’yung pagbigay ko ng raket nila kasi di ko naman kaya mag-isa na mag-picture sa isang event kahit na isang araw lang [It’s my way of helping others by giving them projects for extra income and, of course, I can’t really work on an event all by my lonesome].”
For Jim Ferrer, a staff of a multilevel marketing company, it’s better to be a freelancer.
“Kasi sarili namin ang boss at sarili namin ang time [We’re the boss and we can control our time],” Ferrer told the BusinessMirror. “It’s our choice to go part-time and we work with the willing.”
He considers the company’s tack of hiring part-time workers as its advantage.
“These employees could help them grow their business with the help of extra people who are not paid the same amount given to a regular employee,” Ferrer said, noting the part-time workers of the firm are mostly students.
A STUDY by the United States-based Online Labor Index (OLI) reveals that several skills are required in online gig work.
The OLI, the online equivalent of the conventional labor market statistics database, classified these skills into six occupational categories, with software development and technology as the biggest occupational category. Over one-third of the projects belong to this category.
The software development and technology set of skills is followed by creative and multimedia, writing and translation, clerical and data entry, sales and marketing support, and professional services such as accounting and law.
Albeit considered as the smallest category, the latter category of skills is deemed remarkable since these professions “have not always been at the forefront of technology adoption.”
According to Spring Valley Tech Corp. CEO Jonathan de Luzuriaga, “massive digitization is going to happen globally.”
“As industry leaders we are morally obligated to help our nation as well as every location in the Philippines to go through the digital transformation,” Luzuriaga said.
For Monchito Ibrahim of the Department of ICT, however, the gig economy is all about “jobs” and it is good for these jobs to be dispersed outside the National Capital Region.
“At the end of the day it’s all about bringing jobs to where the people are,” he said. “We’d like to reverse the current situation where 70 percent of the jobs are actually profiled in the metropolitan cities—when . . . almost 80 percent of the graduates are actually coming from the countryside.”