Contractualization in the creative industries: Boon or bane?

In 2016, I gave a talk on the work conditions of cultural and artist workers in a conference for cultural officers and contractual artist-teachers from several Philippine universities. At one point, I asked for a show of hands on who among them would like to have a full-time job, and who wished to remain part-time artist-teachers. Most of those who were married with children responded that they wanted to have a full-time job and all the perks that go with it; while those who were single preferred to hop from one project to another and explore more opportunities that would develop their talents, without worrying about health care or social security benefits. Working with creatives, I have seen people who prefer to work on a contractual or per project basis because they didn’t want to get tied up with the rigidity of the corporate environment. These days, a lot of creative projects are transacted online, from project briefs to payments. Since many creatives are free spirits, they value their freedom in working for passion projects, as they get to manage their own time, learn new skills, and build their networks.  

With the recent talks on implementing Executive Order 51 protecting the rights of all contractual workers, a relevant question to ask is, will EO 51 benefit the creative industries? EO 51 grants employees of contractors and subcontractors certain rights and privileges, such as security of tenure, self-organization, the right to strike, retirement benefits, overtime pay, and 13th month pay. Idealistic as these might seem, I wonder if the creative industries are ready to comply with these demands, and if creatives also favor these benefits in exchange for their freedom to explore other artistic opportunities.

The creative industries in the Philippines provide jobs in various domains (i.e. cultural and natural heritage, performance and celebration, visual arts and artisan products, books and press, audio-visual, broadcast and interactive media, and creative services, tourism, sports and recreation). According to the 2016 Philippine Statistics Authority figures, approximately 7 million are employed in the creative industries, within government and private organizations. Some creative workers are self-employed or entrepreneurs; and some are either employed full-time or on a per-project or contractual basis. 

Compliance with the EO will surely be a challenge for creative enterprises, as fledgling owners still have apprehensions about investing heavily on human resources. They share the same concern of most employers, that the regularization of contractual workers will come at a cost to business, and hamper employment growth. For example, in the entertainment industry, it may not be practical to hire regular actors or production staff knowing that the show’s season might only run for several weeks. In the printing industry, it would also be impractical to keep the contractual people they hire during peak season as regular employees, with their low returns during lean months. 

It is common knowledge in creative industry circles that jobs in this field are considered precarious. Truly, creative industries are at the forefront of the gig economy, giving less of the needed labor flexibility to opt for more tenured jobs which are preferred by workers with families to support. The incidence of the creatives’ multiple job-holding, varying periods of unemployment or underemployment due to scarcity of projects that match their skills or talents, short-term contractual projects, high mobility, extended work hours, and insufficient access to typical benefits and social security are very much evident in the field. However, these unfair practices continue even as the industries grow, which may have been caused by the vulnerability of the creative workers, with their lack of full-time employment options in the field, or with the lack of government support to provide a sustainable industry ecosystem. Even with the Artist Welfare Protection and Information Act of 2015, which promises benefits and protection for creatives, strict policy enforcement still remains to be seen.

EO51 necessitates a balancing act between full-time employment and the need for labor flexibility, especially in newly flourishing fields, such as the creative industries. Creatives should be provided with more employment options and conditions based on their career goals, and their intended level of commitment and contribution to the company. Work in the creative field requires much mental and physical energy. Thus, the creatives’ financial stability, health, and freedom to develop their craft should be of prime importance, for them to sustain themselves and their families. The government should consider regulated implementing strategies that will still uphold the creativeworkforce’s rights and welfare while managing the possible unfavorable effects on the industry, particularly the in terms of layoffs that might arise with the mandated regularization of employees. At the end of the day, EO51 should be able to unify all stakeholders in pushing for actions that will serve the common good of creatives,employers, audiences, and the Philippine economy as a whole. 

GlorifeSamodio is a Doctor of Business Administration student in De La Salle University, where she also serves as a director at the Culture and Arts Office. She recently presented her paper, “Assessing the Needs of the Creative Economy Workforce” at the 2018 International Conference on Cultural Statistics and Creative Economy”. For comments or reactions, she may be reached at [email protected] The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

Topics: Green Light , Contractualization , creative industries
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