As many freelancers or contractors who have tried to find work online can attest, the rise of remote workers in the Middle East and Asia has been nothing short of meteoric. International outsourcing websites such as Freelancer.com, Elance and Odesk have opened up access to pools of cheap workers to western businesses, with freelancers from these regions often willing to work for many times cheaper than their western counterparts.
Now a report from IDG has pegged the volume of freelancers in Pakistan at a massive 40% of the country’s population. This huge uptick is blamed on chronic underemployment in the country, as well as a lack of fulfilling jobs.
By comparison, the number of individuals registered as self-employed in the UK stands at 4.2 million, or roughly 14% of the overall workforce.
According to the report, Pakistani freelancers have racked up more than 2.6 million hours of work on Odesk, and billed in excess of $13 million on Freelancer.com.
Although this entrepreneurial spirit is to be lauded, the proliferation of low-cost labour has a detrimental effect on the fortunes of self-employed professionals in more developed economies, who are used to higher rates of pay. An anonymous freelancer quoted by IDG said of the rise of Asian freelancers:
“Whenever we bid for projects there’s always a South Asian willing to work at one eighth of our rates. Then they get hired; sometimes disappoint clients [and] so now we have high-paying clients simply ignoring bids from this region.”
With recent consolidation in the outsourced online freelancing market, this trend looks set to continue, for better or worse.