The Covid-19 pandemic saw the rise of digital platform workers who were mostly invisible in normal times. The new workers in the digital economic universe — commonly called platform or gig economy — became essential workers providing the needed services when the pandemic locked down people inside their homes.

“Gig” work has come to mean small, temporary, and time-bound service jobs based on digital software applications. With the increasing technological advances, platform-based labor emerged from the practice of outsourcing, in which businesses decreased in-house labor by assigning tasks to service providers.

Businesses operating within the gig economy manages three components:

(1) platform labor, termed as “independent contractors”,2 paid by the gig (i.e., tasks, services, projects);
(2) consumers who have specific service needs (a ride or delivery of items); and
(3) companies with app-based technology platforms connecting workers and consumers.1 Prominent platform-based companies include Food Panda (German), Uber (US), Grab (Singapore), and Lalamove (Malaysia), to name a few.

Unlike workers who are legally entitled to mandatory statutory benefits provided in the Philippine Labor Code and other labor regulations, platform-based workers are generally classified as “independent contractors”. The lack of employer-employee relationship is a bone of contention between platform workers and platform-based companies.

However, many gig workers have defied and resisted the non-recognition of employment relations and won battles for labor rights and benefits in other countries. The most celebrated was the UK Supreme Court ruling recognizing Uber drivers as “workers” of Uber entitled to employment rights including minimum wages and vacations.3

In the Philippines, Food Panda and Lalamove delivery riders have since 2020 organized gig riders’ protests, including “wildcat protest rides”, against inhumane work conditions, low wages, and lack of benefits, and protection particularly during the pandemic. Working at the frontlines, delivery riders are directly exposed to health risks, amplifying their vulnerabilities due to lack of social protection, job security, and labor rights.

The rising protests from delivery riders pressured the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to issue the Labor Advisory No. 14 series of 2021, entitled “Working Conditions of Delivery Riders in Food Delivery and Courier Activities”. The advisory, however, was non-committal whether delivery riders and/or gig workers are employees or independent contractors.

DOLE instead advised the application of the “four-fold test”, a sort of economic reality check, to determine if an employer-employee relationship exists.4 The four-fold test are: (1) selection/hiring of worker; (2) payment of wages; (3) the power of dismissal; and (4) control test. Control test is the most crucial in determining employment relationship — whether the employer/company has the power to control the result of the work, as well as the means and methods to accomplish the work.

More contentions around these issues are bound to emerge in the next years.

Gig workers seeking recognition as employees rather than independent contractors are thus advised to bring their demands to labor courts. The successful case of Food Panda delivery workers in Davao may become a positive precedent in establishing employment relations for delivery riders and gig workers.

In this case, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) Regional Arbitration Branch in Davao ruled that Food Panda Philippines committed illegal dismissal and ordered the company to pay the dismissed workers Php 2.24 million. The amount covers back wages, including 13th-month pay, leave pays, and separation pays for the affected delivery riders.5 These are guaranteed labor benefits for workers under the Labor Code.

The next step is to push for a law that clarifies and regulates the terms and conditions of employment of delivery riders and gig workers. Ultimately, of course, this legislative pathway will still rely on how far platform workers can consistently collectively organize and mobilize.

Verna Dinah Q. Viajar is currently a Postdoctoral Doctoral Research Fellow of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Berlin and Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations, University of the Philippines Diliman. She is also a research fellow at LEARN.

1See Istrate, E.& Hariss, J. (2017). The future of work the rise of the gig economy. Retrieved from
2See Samson, M. (2021). “Workers’ Rights in the Philippine Gig Economy”. Asia Business Law Journal. Retrieved from Workers’ rights in the Philippine gig economy. Asia Business Law Journal.
3See Frantz, E. & Cuk, R. (2021). “Why Uber’s Loss is a Win for Labour Rights”. Open Society Foundations. Retrieved from Why Uber’s Loss Is a Win for Labor Rights – Open Society Foundations.
4See Samson, M. (2021). “Workers’ Rights in the Philippine Gig Economy”. Asia Business Law Journal. Retrieved from Workers’ rights in the Philippine gig economy. Asia Business Law Journal.
5See Cantal-Albasin, G. (2022). “NLRC orders foodpanda to pay 7 dismissed delivery riders in Davao”. Rappler. Retrieved from NLRC orders foodpanda to pay 7 dismissed delivery riders in Davao (