Tax agencies should keep up with global trend toward flexible work — ADB

Cognitive jobs that require data interpretation, analysis, and creative thinking — characteristics that are prevalent among higher educated and more skilled workers — can be done from home, said an Asian Development Bank economist. 

“What we see globally is that enterprises and workers in information-related occupations are shifting towards hybrid and even remote work arrangements,” Sameer Khatiwada, ADB Southeast Asia’s social sector specialist, told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. 

Despite the global trend of hybrid or remote work, business process outsourcing companies (BPOs) in the Philippines that operate in economic zones will be required to operate on location by September 2022, when the extension of the work-from-home set-up approved by the Fiscal and Incentives Review Board ends. 

Instead of requiring onsite work to allow the effective monitoring of fiscal incentives, Mr. Khatiwada said that “tax agencies will need to create innovative ways to strengthen tax surveillance and compliance in hybrid or remote work arrangements.” 

Cognitive jobs that can be done remotely include product design, software development, and call center operations. Back-office operations can also be done from home, although these are at risk of automation, according to Mr. Khatiwada

In a May 17 ADB blog, he differentiated cognitive jobs from manual jobs that cannot be done from home, such as driving a truck or waiting tables at a café. 

According to 2012 study in the Philippine Review of Economics

that examined 427 occupations, only 8%–10% have all tasks classified as remote; 35%–37% cannot be done remotely. The rest are a combination of onsite and remote tasks. 

The pandemic hit some occupations harder than others. Service sectors such as those in food and transportation were casualties of the lockdown and physical distancing measures. So were those in manufacturing and construction who had to cope with these disruptions. 

SOCIAL PROTECTION 

Self-employed workers were likewise harder hit than their salaried counterparts, per ADB’s December 2021 research on the Southeast Asian labor market. The study noted that this segment tends to be in the informal sector, and that those who were lower-skilled were less likely to shift to teleworking.  

As such, they face a higher risk of unemployment and income loss during times of crisis. 

Freelancers can make their incomes more crisis-proof if they can diversify their clients, including by expanding their skillsets to related areas, Mr. Khatiwada said.  

“The pandemic has also highlighted that — given the non-standard form of employment contracts of freelancers — many were ineligible for government support and the safety nets put in place during the pandemic,” he added. “There is a need to rethink and build more comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable employment or income insurance schemes moving forward.” 

Either an expanded social unemployment insurance or an income protection scheme can be enacted by the government to support all workers’ transition to the “future of work,” according to Kelly Bird, Philippines country director for ADB. 

“Two alternative models that could be applicable to the Philippines is the Malaysian employment insurance scheme and the Chilean unemployment insurance scheme, [the latter of which] comprises of individual savings accounts and a government Solidarity Fund,” he told BusinessWorld in an e-mail. “The second intervention is enterprise-based skills development schemes that allow workers access to lifelong skills training.” 

ADB, Mr. Bird added, is collaborating with the trade and industry, labor and employment, and tourism departments to pilot SkillsUpNet Philippines. 

“This will provide grant funding to networks of enterprises in priority sectors to skill up or reskill workers and job seekers,” he said.  

With these, “networks can incorporate digital skills training, which [in turn] can support hybrid work arrangements.” 

Added Mr. Khatiwada: “Remote work is not possible without connectivity, so governments need to prioritize investments in infrastructure that allow workers to be productive in a hybrid setting.” said Mr. 

Nine of 10 employees prefer a hybrid or remote work setup, based on a survey of 8,184 workers by Sprout Solutions in January. — P. B. Mirasol