I SAW an old video on YouTube that featured a bank employee talking before a small audience of overseas Filipino workers. The lecturer, Mr. Teteng, transformed the room into a comedy bar, as he shared his personal observations about an OFW’s life, having been stationed previously in Spain and other parts of the world.
The hyperactive Mr. Teteng used a book as a metaphor for vagina. “Do not open your book to just anyone,” he told the women in the audience, drawing laughs and giggles. Somewhere in the middle of his talk, he also joked about the application process for his bank’s ATM card. “You can give us a photocopy of any of these documents but make sure your P100 is original.”
Banks are an example of commercial establishments that sponsor pre-departure orientation seminars for OFWs, commonly referred to as PDOS. They invite accredited PDOS providers to use their facilities and would even offer to shoulder the costs of food. In exchange, every participant goes home with an ATM card for future bank transactions.
Insurance companies are another source of sponsorships for PDOS seminars. In the amended Migrant Workers’ Act, a recruitment agency is mandated to pay for the insurance coverage of the deployed newly hired worker. Once that worker renews his contract, the mandatory insurance coverage becomes optional. The number of re-hired OFWs represents a huge potential market for insurance companies.
The OFWs are aware of how PDOS seminars have evolved into commercial endeavors, given the number of company tarpaulins, fliers, and personnel stationed at the seminar venue. The PDOS fee must not exceed P100 to P150 and ought to be paid by the foreign employer or the recruitment agency on behalf of the worker. A PDOS provider, especially if it is an NGO, has overhead to pay, and the P100 fee alone would not be enough to sustain its operations. There has to be a way for an NGO to keep its dignity intact while it pursues the goal of welfare protection through the conduct of PDOS seminars.
It is also an open secret that in many instances, it is actually the worker who pays the P100 seminar fee. OWWA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac has recently directed the accredited PDOS providers to directly bill the recruitment agencies, to make sure that the OFWs are spared the fee. He should also look into the alleged “rebate” system, where a PDOS provider gives back P20 to P50 as a “rebate” to the unscrupulous recruitment agency that referred its workers to attend the former’s seminars. That such a practice even exists should be considered an embarrassment to all concerned.
OWWA conducts its own PDOS for skilled workers in various regions outside Metro Manila, for OFWs bound for Canada and Japan, for domestic workers awaiting deployment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and health workers bound for Germany. OWWA also handles PDOS seminars for OFWs recruited by the government placement branch of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA, as well as for OFWs who belong to the “name-hired” category. Yet, some of OWWA’s PDOS seminars are conducted in facilities provided by a certain bank.
Aside from OWWA, there are six accredited agency associations that provide PDOS seminars to workers recruited by the member-agencies of these different associations. For example, one of the oldest industry associations is known as Pasei, which stands for Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. Several member-agencies of Pasei refer their workers to the association’s PDOS seminars. As of April 2014, there were 53 land-based recruitment agencies and 234 sea-based or manning agencies that are allowed to conduct PDOS seminars. OWWA also has 14 accredited NGOs that hold regular PDOS seminars for OFWs.
For domestic workers bound for Saudi Arabia, OWWA conducts the PDOS seminars, tapping speakers from the accredited NGOs to handle specific topics such as “Migration Realities”. The PDOS seminars for Saudi-bound domestic workers require two days. By comparison, a typical PDOS seminar for skilled workers and non-domestic workers runs for only six hours.
Is the PDOS seminar still necessary for an outbound OFW given the enormous amount of information now available on the Internet? Yes, it is. The modules, however, need to be revisited. In communications, one is constantly reminded to keep presentations brief, simple, and memorable. To be memorable, the speaker must know how to build that emotional connection with the audience. I have been to several seminars. I don’t remember the slides. I remember the best moments, and the best lines of the best speakers.
I believe that PDOS seminars should be country-specific, with former OFWs sharing their experiences, the use of the case study approach to combine theory with reality checks, and a Q&A session at the end of each module.
How about the P100 fee? If we are to remove commercialism from PDOS seminars, then the foreign employer, the worker, the PDOS provider and OWWA must accept PDOS as a quality investment in the OFW’s welfare and protection. The fee can and should be raised, for payment solely by the foreign employer, without any demand for rebates from the recruitment agency concerned, and with clear incentives for growth and improvement.
OWWA can draw inspiration on the rating system adopted by Uber and Grab. If passengers can give five stars to a good driver, then why can’t a PDOS participant extend the same rating to an excellent speaker?
Lastly, this writer and OFW advocate believes that the time has come for Congress to enact a PDOS Law. The PDOS law would lead to a budget for PDOS seminars, skills and knowledge training sessions for accredited PDOS trainers, and a permanent unit with oversight functions over PDOS. PDOS seminars must be designed as a learning platform, and not as a means to solve all the gaps in the migration cycle. At the end of the day, it really is just a seminar. Done properly, however, a good PDOS can actually save lives.