Bottom Of The Barrel: Avoiding Freelance Slave Labor

To Win Bids, You Have To Work For 30 Cents/Hour

Set up a booth near the lineup outside the Unemployment Office. Go recruit people to sign an Indentured Servitude contract: Three squares a day and a dry-cleaned slave toga. In return, 60 hours a week of slavery, but no beatings, overt humiliation or overly excessive exploitation. See how many people you can convince that it's better than what they're doing now and get to sign up.

You might have some luck with that. After all, something not too different is going on right now on various "Freelancers Bid For Work" sites. If you think that indentured servitude is illegal, then those sites must be operating outside the law.

Workers everywhere have rights. Except online!
Workers everywhere have rights. Except online!
Some Freelancer Job Sites are little more than modern slave markets.
Some Freelancer Job Sites are little more than modern slave markets.
The computer revolution was not supposed to SPREAD worldwide poverty!
The computer revolution was not supposed to SPREAD worldwide poverty!

If you've never been on some of these "Freelancer Bidding" sites, imagine an international, electronic slave market where companies and individuals that require freelance services suitable for telecommuting such as website coding, copywriting, graphic design, etc. can post their requirements and get bids from around the world. It actually sounds like a reasonable Web 2.0-ish sort of way to get stay-at-homes to find paying gigs, doesn't it? It is, until you look at the rates.

Some of the bids are not just outrageous, they are downright exploitative. Take a quick look and you will see 1000 words complete with extensive web research being compensated with $1. That means that the "winner" will have to spend time googling around to gather the appropriate information, compile that data into a report as long as four pages of a novel, suffer through re-edits and the obligatory re-writes, and at the end of it will be able to receive the compensation: One item off the Wendy's 99 cent menu.

And that's when and if they get paid.

It's true that no one is forcing these people onto this site, and it's also true that many of these types of bids end up being "won" by Third World mills, mostly on the Indian Sub-Continent. Much of the population in various countries which have an English-language educational system but are ravaged by poverty could certainly consider spending three or four hours on a project in exchange for one US dollar a reasonable return.

However for the inhabitants of the more developed countries, it is simply not feasible to work for 30 cents an hour. A large talent pool that could benefit by a truly equitable "Freelancer" online market is being undercut so severely that it is dissipating. It is just not worth while chasing up possible freelancer opportunities for this sort of compensation.

This is not to say that all projects posted are criminally exploitative. There are some companies that post strict quality requirements for their bidders and offer reasonable and competitive compensation. The Third World mills have problems with quality since the overall standard of the work is rather low. Some projects have "American-native" as a requirement. That is not at all discriminatory. Various English-speaking nations have adopted a form of patois into their everyday accepted speech patterns. This patois finds its way into the writing generated by the Third World mills and that will confuse an American target audience. Therefore, out of respect for the target audience and the effectiveness of the message, not to mention ROI, the proper project offering will have very strict requirements that call for very specific quality controls.

It's time for a completely new type of "Freelancer Jobs Site," one with extremely high ethics and rigid standards. Instead of just letting anyone pitch anything in exchange for a commission on every winning bid, establish very firm and fair minimum limits. For example, one cent per word should be the absolute minimum for any kind of writing that requires even a bit of research. In exchange, all bidders can only log on if they have passed a basic literacy and skills test. This ensures the project managers that they are dealing with serious, educated professionals, not just semi-illiterate time wasters.

It is time that freelancers demand an online market that is in adherence with the professional standards they deserve. It will be a boon to both project managers who will receive highly-qualified applicants for their mission-critical assignments, and to the freelancers all over the world who will be able to earn a respectable and honest living exercising their craft.

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Comments 45 comments

smallbizpro profile image

smallbizpro 8 years ago from Toronto, ON

"In exchange, all bidders can only log on if they have passed a basic literacy and skills test."

You mean like Elance does? Do some research...


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

I've had an account on Elance for years. You call THAT a literacy and skills test? You click in a few checkmarks! Learn to read! :P


smallbizpro profile image

smallbizpro 8 years ago from Toronto, ON

No, but I DO call it a basic literacy and skills test, as stated by you. So, should I learn to read or learn to quote properly? Oops, I did both...


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

Dude, you're boring me. Don't you have any nice cars to go chase? :P


smallbizpro profile image

smallbizpro 8 years ago from Toronto, ON

I'd rather ask you to come out with more intelligent responses - such as, if you're such a wonderfully experienced guy with over 30 years in the media field, why is the only thing that's even remotely "interesting" (in the loosest term) about you in search engines your Expemedia website?

A site that's so impressive it has no Google Page Rank or even an Alexa rating? Everything else seems to be your Hubpages or some blog posts - hardly indictment of a "wonderful media career" or a "best-selling author", even pen-named.


alexd181 profile image

alexd181 8 years ago

Great article. I agree with so much of what has been brought up. I tried freelancing but I couldn't compete with some freelancers offering 5-10$ bids for full programming applications and thousand word articles.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

Thanks, alexd181. Freelancing has been pretty well gutted by the advent of Third World writers who can feed their entire families on $5 a day. It makes it impossible for people in the industrialized world to be able to compete. The only way to be able to make any decent money freelancing is to specialize extensively and be able to treat your current clients so well that they just keep coming back for more.

smallbizpro: You asked me a zillion questions and I even wrote a Hub answering them all in detail. Now it's obvious that you're just trying to bust my chops. My website is my business card. Do you see any ads on it? So why the hell do I need a PR8? Duh! I contact clients from posts or other means and direct them to my site. So if I get 50 hits a month and it works out to 5 good assignments, that's all it needs to do. Furthermore, I take it that the other 229,999 sites that come up on google when you type in "hal licino" are not remotely interesting to you, huh? I have about as many google results as Gilles Duceppe who has been the leader of a Federal Canadian Party for years, and you tell me that I'm not interesting? You know what, dude. I have more fun things to do with my life than deal with a nattering nabob of negativism like you. I've MORE than answered all your legitimate queries. From now on we'll see if you can post comments faster than I can Deny them. This conversation is over. Go find someone else who wants to play your games.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

smallbizpro...

http://hubpages.com/literature/The-Four-Way-Test-F...

... and just in case you can't read well, allow me to reiterate:

This conversation is over.

Thank you. Have a nice life.


Set's All Set profile image

Set's All Set 7 years ago from New England

good article Hal! Smallbiz, GTFO troll.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Thanks, Set's All Set. smallbizpro went off to practice his troll ways somewhere else within days of his last comment on this Hub and never came back to HubPages as his activity completely stopped then. Good riddance. :)


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

Hal, I'm part of the Third World country that 'gutted' freelancing. I also do freelance and if I get the projects because I bid low, it's because the clients want it to be so. A low bid does not necessarily mean low quality. It just means that we are more competitive. I think this is the reason why eLance put in a minimum bid ($50) and a feedback system that ensures you cannot undercut your competition without offering quality service in return. In the end, quality is still the equalizing factor for all freelancers, regardless of whether they come from the developed countries or the 'third-world' countries.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Don't get me wrong, I would never state that 100% of all Third World work in this field is deficient, but I have seen an inordinate amount which is. I have also been involved with a Third World writer (I can't tell you who it is but she is a prominent Hubber... wink wink) whose work was better than anything I'd ever seen and was likely the best overall writer I have encountered in all my decades of being an editor!


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

Don't worry, I'm not really mad at you or anything. Just wanted to point out that it's also not easy for us to come inside your turf and compete with native English speakers. Thanks for the clarification and the compliment. Or that wasn't for me LOL.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Actually, we've never worked together... have we? :)


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

LOL yes. If you have an opening for me, I'll gladly accept =).


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

You've confused me. We HAVE worked together? Fill me in! My memory must not be what it once was!

Actually I worked with this particular wonderful lady Hubber a couple of years ago and then I stopped taking on the clients that required me to collaborate with her for other reasons. I really miss working with her as she was a truly consummate pro!


Shirley Anderson profile image

Shirley Anderson 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Amen, brother Hal! I hate those bidding sites, wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.

I think that the market is starting to turn around a little, at least for me and I hope for all others serious about making freelancing their living. It took some time and rep building but it's paying off now.

You never fail to entertain while educating. :)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Thanks Shirley. It was inevitable that after paying for crap and receiving crap for several years, some clients would finally wake up and realize that you only get what you pay for. Good luck on continuing to secure decent paying work! :)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hal, I'm a little baffled by this: "However for the inhabitants of the more developed countries, it is simply not feasible to work for 30 cents an hour."

How much do you make an hour writing for Hubpages? I make a lot less than that, and I'm still here.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

Excellent thoughts on freelancing. I'm signed up with ODesk, and a local news program recently did a piece on how they're one of the legimate sites. They do have requirements, offer ways to get "certified" in different skills, and even require service providers to pass the "ODesk Ready" test. The trouble is that even with all that there are still people willing to write for $3.

Other than selling some articles I wrote because I felt like it and sold from Helium's "stock content" (for $5, $10 and, if I recall correctly, maybe $20; depending on the terms), I won't write for $2 or $3. Let the third-world folks have those assignments. They're not worth it. I won't bid/compete for low-paid work. People who know they have solid writing skills can get assignments without competing against someone who will write for a couple of dollars.

That's why there's something to be said for writing "the right kind of Hub", letting it bring in a little chunk of earnings each month, and getting to write what you want you to write about to boot.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Great Hub, Hal

I started off on oDesk, and some of the practices are a joke. Everything is weighed heavily in favour of the buyer. They refuse to put a minimum bid on there, claiming that it is a free-market etc. I could live with that, but only if they stop forcing freelancers to put their nationality on their profile - people are currently judged by where they live rather than by the quality of their work.

Aya - I have made nothing through adsense here. However, I have had plenty of work through Hubpages, much more than 30 cents an hour. I am pretty sure that Hal is the same - it is a good place for a portfolio. ;)

Of course, sometimes it is nice to write for fun, too.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Aya Katz: I was signed up by HubPages on a contract that they were offering to established journalists a couple of years ago (but I don't believe that they are offering any longer) to receive a fixed payment per Hub plus the additional per click revenue. That works very well and it's my ongoing financial incentive to write for this site. (Over and above the fact that it's FUN!)

Lisa HW: As I've stated on other Hubs, I'm not a fan of Helium. HubPages IMHO is the #1 writing site in the world, and the latest rankings which place it in the top 150 sites in the USA prove it! :)

Sufidreamer: I have no experience with oDesk, so I can't comment. I'd like to look into it though to see what they're doing...


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

I don't use them very much - they advertised on Good Morning America just as the economic crisis started. Unfortunately, this led to a huge flux of desperate people, willing to work for practically nothing. Sadly, the quality was generally poor - as you know, it is very easy to be a writer but very difficult to be a good writer

I don't apply for work on there anymore, although I leave my profile open - I have had a couple of gigs recently, but on my terms. :)


CelinaMac profile image

CelinaMac 7 years ago from Philippines

Sufi,

I live in Manila (lower living cost than Greece) and even I cannot afford to work for jobs in Odesk. Try e-lance. It has a more extensive range of writers from those that get paid hundreds for writing speeches, screenplays, comedies, direct marketing materials, and e-books--- to those jobs that can simply help you a little to pay for those groceries or some deficits in your monthly income.

***You can filter the jobs based on budget. Some just bid in e-lance a few times each month for those thousand dollar projects (they stick to their 80-20 rule).

Also read the profiles of the top writers there---and you would see how they get paid substantially more. They have an impressive portfolio of big accounts and have worked with well-known figures in various industries. They have built a competitive moat with their skills.

Do these type of writers need to worry about the surge of developing country writers? I don't think so. Although many can write "informational or just sythesizing research type of articles---not many can produce those compelling marketing pieces, persuasive grant or business proposals, screenplays and speeches. (You know what I mean---there are millions who know how to speak and write english but there is always just one David Ogilvy...just one J.K. Rowling..one Stephen King...and for the Philippines one Carlos Bulosan)

Moreover, not all buyers (even small size businesses) of basic informational pieces or articles make cost their number one priority. I have lost bids where my price was 50% lower and have won bids where my rate was 50% higher than the other bids.

Also check out the e-lance blog. Other writers share how they can work full-time freelancing (even in the U.S.) and get more jobs.

By the way, I have not signed for any affiliate e-lance program or anything like that, but for somebody who used to work for an outsourcing company and got a 50% deduction from her paycheck---the 8.75% fees and ~$10. writing & translation membership required by e-lance is nothing. That is even less than the wire transfer fees I used to pay just to withdraw my funds in those outsourcing companies.

Many writers (even from developing countries) are seeking fairness and trying to figure out a better way to set their rates. And we also know that we can't just compete in cost because there would always be NEW writers, and writers from countries with lower living expenses.


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

Oh my, sorry for confusing you. No we haven't worked together. I was just saying that if you want to hire a writer, maybe I can apply? LOL, sorry for the misunderstanding.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Sufidreamer: As long as you can dictate the terms and they are fair for all involved, then IMHO, any platform is acceptable! :)

CelinaMac: I've heard rumors through the years (and I'm just passing them on as unsubstantiated rumors, so elance's attorneys can stand down now...) that elance is filled with shills: Many of the "big jobs" are fake and only ever awarded to equally faked writers. I've been scratching my head on how to devise a test to prove or disprove this, but I haven't been able to work out how I could gather sufficient evidence.

emievil: You had me worried that I was losing my mind at my young and tender age! :) Actually, I'm out of that biz since a) most of my previous clients have gone bankrupt in this wonderful economy and b) the ones that are left aren't doing much and what they are doing pays peanuts.


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

*sigh* I was hoping I could get another job from you. LOL. Anyway, I completely agree with CelineMac (not because we're both Filipinos, but because we both work in eLance). Reading through the other comments got me thinking. I mean the only time that I experienced having a $3 - per page rate was when I was doing rewrites (one rewrite only per article, thank God). The rest of the time, I'm paid $5 for a double-spaced, 250-word page. My hourly rate is like $3 to $4 (which is like a one-day minimum wage for some cities here). Relatively speaking, are these good rates or bad rates?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Well, five bucks for 250 is two cents per word, a rate that if you can get for very simple "quick rewriting" work is at the bottom of the acceptable range. The problem is that many clients who want to pay two cents/word want research, etc. and then it becomes a complete waste of time and effort for the writer.

For several years I have carefully been considering whether it would be worth my while to leave crazy-expensive Canada where a cauliflower costs $11, and a loaf of my favorite bread has just risen to $4.50, in order to go to a nation where the climate doesn't try to kill you 4 months out of the year and I could actually live off the earnings from "mid-range" writing contracts. I'm not at the point of that decision yet as I've lived around the world, and I do have to admit that Canada does have some marvelous advantages over all other nations on Earth with the possible exception of Oz and NZ. :(


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

You can always try the Philippines Hal. A lot of foreigners come here to live because of the low cost of living and because they like the weather here (and the people, and the food, and everything else). Most of them are actually retirees (which you are not) living off small pensions (in dollar terms, but in peso terms, the amount is okay for a comfortable living). So if you want to consider another place, I'll recommend my country anytime. =)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I'd love nothing better than to live in the Philippines. It's a dream location. Tropical climate, astounding scenery, wonderful people, and most store signs are in English! I have a GREAT idea. If you can get me a permanent visa, I'll come down there and we can partner up in the writing business of BOTH our dreams! By the end of the first year we'll be flossing our bling around Manila in matching chauffeured limousines!

I'm cereal! (No, not cuckoo for cocoa puffs)... LET'S DO IT! :)


CelinaMac profile image

CelinaMac 7 years ago from Philippines

Hal,

If you care enough about the issue to put a bit of money in it, you can purchase connects in elance and bid on those projects yourself. With your credentials, if you do not close any of those big accounts in 3 months...then...

Or why not just write this topic on the elance blog and ask e-lance to respond to this legitimate concern??? I mean...citing proof will only increase their credibility right?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I've used elance in the distant past and never got a bite. I really don't want to give them any more of my money to just waste more of my time. I can't make accusations against elance or anyone else without evidence, and I haven't been able to work out an experiment to prove anything either way about that site. I'll keep thinking about it though! :)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

HAL!!!!! Just saw this hub! If you are referring to anyone else but me, I'll scratch their eyes out so help me God! :D

I've told you often enough you're the best so I'm not going to make your head swell even more repeating it LOL!


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Well... I WAS trying to keep our previous collaboration confidential, but you don't need to scratch anyone's eyes out. :)

For the record, Shalini Kagal is the prominent Hubber "whose work was better than anything I'd ever seen and was likely the best overall writer I have encountered in all my decades of being an editor!"

And that doesn't begin to scratch the surface of my stellar opinion of Ms. Kagal! :)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Found it tough getting through the hubworld door this morning - my head was THAT swollen! :D


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines

HMMMM, permanent visa huh? We'll swap, I'll go there in Canada and you can come here LOL. Thanks for your compliments about my country. Never fails to amaze me that a lot of foreigners want to live in my country but a lot of my countrymen (or women) want to go to foreign countries. Oh well, can't avoid it as this is the reality.

Hey, thanks for refering me to Ms. Kagal's hubpage. I just made myself her fan. Perhaps now some of her talents in writing will rub off on me. Cheers!


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Shalini, you should consider living in the great outdoors since the sky is the only thing that can contain your massive intelligence and talent! :)

emievil: Canada's immigration policy is so messed up that I don't even want to discuss it. It could be the subject of several extremely controversial Hubs. :)


Paisley 7 years ago

I live in a country with an emerging economy and my English is much bettter than many US and UK citizens. Guess what? My standard of language and writing skills mean absolutely nothing to first world clients. They are even happier to exploit me once they see how well I research and write.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Thanks for your comment, Paisley! The problem with the majority of the individuals and companies which hire freelance writers is that they are used to exploiting us to the hilt! It is an unfortunate fact of life that many buyers of online writing expect to pay half a cent or less per word, and sad to say, most of them don't give a damn whether their half cent buys crap or literary genius. Of course they're happier when they get good stuff, but you'd be amazed at the illegible illiterate dung I've seen people put on websites that they have actually paid for. How much they paid, of course, is usually the critical aspect! :)


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Hal, there's something about the title of this hub that has always bothered me, but up till now I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Who ever heard of freelance slaves? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Freelance slavery is actually a concept which is coming into vogue. Since the economic worldwide recession has thrown so many people into unemployment, more and more of these former workers are choosing to sell themselves into indentured slavery contracts. In exchange for food, board, a pack of cigarettes and a bar of soap a week many unemployable people are becoming neo-slaves. Usually the contract has a fixed 2 to 5 year term and prohibits excessive whipping, but basically, it's just a nostalgic way to harken back to the memorable history of American slavery.

Aya, I know you're aware of it, but this is a note to all people who lost their sense of humor in the stock market crash: THIS IS A JOKE! :)


nicomp profile image

nicomp 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

"slavery?" No

Hyperbole? Yes.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Yeah, you're one of the ones that had your sense of humor wiped out when the DJIA hit 6500, right? :P


nicomp profile image

nicomp 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

Honestly, I am so livid over Washington's meddling in health care, I totally missed the point. My bad!


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Nah, Washington isn't meddling in Health Care at all. They are proudly bringing the nation into 21st Century Marxism, where there will be a red beret on every head, and a statue of the holy trinity: Marx, Chavez and Castro in every home. Join me in singing L'Internationale, comrade! :) (Yeah, you might wanna read the Hubs I've written on Obama's Marxism... they're FUN!) :)

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