Article: 'It is time to welcome and empower gig workers'

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'It is time to welcome and empower gig workers'

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Mark Lord Limson, VP and Head, Human Resources Group at Philippine Savings Bank, shares insights on how ‘uberization’ of works looks like in developing country like the Philippines.
'It is time to welcome and empower gig workers'

The rise of freelance workers is changing the corporate workforce rapidly. When Uber came in, it allowed customers to hail a taxi with the click of a button. And finally, it became a way to give people an effortless way to try their hand at a side hustle. Uber today is considered as the benchmark for all freelance jobs.

As the uberization of all things spreads across the globe, what does this look like in developing countries, especially in a country like the Philippines?

In this interview with Mark Lord Limson, VP and Head, Human Resources Group at Philippine Savings Bank, we understand how South East Asia, especially the Philippines is embracing the gig economy and what it means to the banking industry.

With the uberization of work set to grow further, how do you see the Philippines in the context of the Gig Economy? Where does it stand right now as compared to other parts of SEA region?

As I see it, the Philipines is already engaged in a gig economy, with the presence of a lot of informal working sectors on top of the freelance work activities, not discounting the presence of small and medium enterprises. These gig workers are relatively active in the housekeeping, construction, transportation, and selling of products and/or services (e.g., direct selling, ambulant vending).

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I believe that it is comparable to the likes of Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and probably India in term of how it is applied. As far as Singapore and Hong Kong, the Philippines is still a little bit behind as of now, but with the increase in the utilization of internet, particularly in the use of social media, I believe that the gap is getting closer. 

Supporters claim the Gig Economy will further worker empowerment and entrepreneurship, while critics worry it signals the deterioration of employers and employees relation. What're your views?

The gig economy has been present for quite some time now. I believe the reason why it is becoming a “hot item” nowadays is because the Internet of Things has made it more accessible and more efficient: gig workers can now offer their products and services in a much wider ratio, and this resulted in the conscious effort to improve self-branding, whereas before, the attention is for organizations to advocate corporate branding, as well as employer branding to attract customers and employees respectively.

The way I see it, the presence of a gig economy will not impact the employee-employer relationship in a traditional work environment, but it will introduce a new kind of relationship for those who are now venturing into this kind of work and business model. There is no longer one, singular source of truth. In this disruptive era of ours, it should be somewhat expected.

While the future workforce is broadly classified as the human-machine interaction, but it also entails other types of employees such as traditional workers, contingent gig workers, and independent gig workers!

I believe that there should be an organized group that should be established to formalize these gig workers. In the Philippines with a working population of almost 72M, there are 62 percent or 46.6M of traditional workers. A lot of those left are into agriculture, but more and more are becoming gig workers. The problem is that they are unaccounted for because no organization can herd them and speaks on their behalf. There might be some small associations here and there, but these groups are not big enough to command terms of reference for these type of economy. Also, having an established organization can provide voice and economies of scale on areas gig workers need most (e.g., HMO, lobbying of specific laws, etc.).

The government is also a big factor in introducing guidelines to this sector, though it should be done in a helping manner, and not as a way to police the gig workers. The reason why it remained underground for quite so long is that most of these gig workers wouldn’t want to experience backlash for being freelance workers and that their reservation in handling government red tapes is still a cause for concern.

Lastly, the advent of technology, especially in the use of online platforms and social media can help establish norms where gig workers follow. The internet has become powerful nowadays that it can change the behavior of supply and demand, as well as the way the products and services are delivered.

What all challenges do you see when it comes to managing gig workers?

As of now, a number of gig workers are still categorized as informal where norms are established. While a number of these workers are subscribed to established platforms (e.g., Grab, Lazada, etc.), there are still a lot of transactions that are done without the benefit of a documented contract. As a result, there will be hits and misses along the way that may affect either side. I believe that regulations should be in the works to protect the interest of all parties.

It is also very understandable that the concept of a gig economy is a disruption to those who are accustomed to the traditional view of workers (i.e., employee-employer relationship), but I think that there are a lot of organizations nowadays who are already embracing this concept. In fact, most companies nowadays are already engaged to businesses that have gig workers.

I hope that the government will also recognize this and create/revise laws that will empower the gig economy. In the Philippines where local laws support the security of tenure, restrictions still abound. I hope that this would change, and let the market decide. This will, in turn, result in having a more available pool of talent, better performance, which eventually leads to an even better delivery of products and services. 

You currently head HR for a Philippine bank. How do you see the uberization of the workforce in the BFSI sector?

Currently, Philippine banks are under the strict regulations coming from the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines) and for a good reason. Banking and financial services, after all, operate based on the trust and confidence of its clients, and that should always be of paramount importance. As a result, a certain function should be contained and performed by traditional workers.

On the other hand, there are already some banking services that can be outsourced, and I think this is a niche that can be capitalized by these gig workers. What it needs, though is the support coming from an established group of gig workers, favorable government laws and regulations, and acknowledgment and acceptance from the Banko Sentral itself.

We are already in the Fourth Revolution and the advent of FinTech. It will happen sooner than we think, and as HR practitioners and People advocates, this should now be included in planning the business and its people.

To know how gig economy will introduce a new kind of relationship for those who are now venturing into this kind of business model, join us for People Matters TechHR Conference on 28th February 2019 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. Register Now!

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Topics: Talent Management, #GigEconomy, #TechHR 2019

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