Platform labour has experienced significant uptake in the Philippines in recent years, with the government actively promoting digital labour as a solution to unemployment. Payoneer’s (2019) data shows the country to be the fifth fastest–growing gig economy in the world. We are pleased to announce the launch of Fairwork Philippines to better understand the conditions faced by this expanding workforce.
The Philippines has become one of the largest suppliers of labour in cloudwork platforms such as Upwork or Onlinejobs.ph. This is the result of an institutional push for labour migration and business process outsourcing (BPO) but also benefitted from the English proficiency and service-oriented worker identities of Filipino workers. Although these platforms assuage the government’s employment numbers and in significant ways create opportunities for workers with no better options, they simultaneously exacerbate workers’ vulnerability and dependency. Amid the popularity of multi-national cloudwork companies, local platforms have emerged in the Philippines too. Some of these were established by local workers as a form of resistance and critique of the precarious conditions of global labour platforms, or set-up by local entrepreneurs who realised the potential of the cloud-based platform economy in a country with a cheap supply of labour and increasing demand for services among Filipino micro and small businesses.
While Filipinos clinching gigs in cloudwork platforms work mostly with foreign clients, there are also global and Philippine-based gig work platforms catering to local demand for food, transportation, cleaning, and general service delivery that are hiring Filipino gig workers at an increasing pace. This exponentially growing gig economy provides work to thousands of workers who lost jobs in the formal and informal economy during the pandemic shutdown. With an expanding middle-class with increasing disposable income and lockdowns pushing for on-demand goods and services, we can expect a growing demand for local gig work platforms in the months and years ahead. Intersecting with prevailing norms of labor informality and lack of viable employment alternatives, these platforms are able to attract high numbers of workers and aspirants, often with poorly regulated standards of work.
While global platforms remain outside government regulation, local labour platforms may be compelled to register as local businesses and expected to be more invested in promoting the welfare of local workers. However, the actual working conditions in these platforms require further scrutiny.
With this in mind, the recently launched Fairwork Philippines project has overarching two aims:
- Understand the characteristics of emerging local labour platforms as alternatives to global platforms, and examine their ‘labour brokerage’ role, and
- Explore how these local initiatives emerging design and organise their platforms and, in turn, facilitate labour arrangements.
Using the five principles of Fairwork for the platform economy, the project will examine whether these local platforms facilitate fairer labour arrangements for workers, while also interrogating the global conditions and labour regimes that give rise to them and that surround their future viability. The analysis of these platforms will follow the Fairwork framework and will be supplemented by in-depth interviews with platform managers and Filipino gig workers.
We believe analysing emerging local labour platforms against a global standard of fair work can yield important practical and policy contributions. Furthermore, by examining the brokerage process underlying the global digital labour economy as it unfolds within local experience, this project aims to open the black box on the characteristics of local experience, the layers of intermediation, and future directions for platform labour in the country. We also hope to depict how crucial actors and community networks emerge to play significant roles in constructing labour control, communication, and experience in this global economy.
The Fairwork Philippines project will be lead by Cheryll Ruth R. Soriano, professor of Communication at De La Salle University in Manila.