Lessons to empower migrant workers

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Atty. Dodo Dulay

Atty. Dodo Dulay

THOSE of us involved in the welfare service sector know all too well that one way to prevent abuses against our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is to empower them. How exactly do we empower them? By teaching them critical information about work and travel-related issues, and how to apply such information when the need arises.

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The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), through the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has created a system of welfare interventions to empower our migrant workers, from the time an OFW seeks foreign employment until their arrival in the country of destination.

It all begins with the pre-employment orientation seminar (PEOS), a mandatory online course that provides information on various topics such as factors for consideration when working overseas, questions-and-answers on employment contracts, country-specific information, POEA fees and requirements, and the benefits of having an overseas employment certificate (OEC).

Welfare interventions
The PEOS for domestic workers has been enhanced by expanding the course to eight modules, the first part of which is entitled, “Ano ang mga kailangan kong malaman bago mag-abroad? (What do I need to know before leaving for abroad?),” which provides information on the procedures on how to apply for work, working abroad safely, costs of application, what to expect in an OFW contract, and exercising caution while employed overseas.

The online seminar produces the PEOS certificate immediately, which applicants can then save and print for eventual submission to POEA.

After the OFW has been accepted for work abroad and signs an employment contract, the next welfare intervention comes in the form of the pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS), which is designed to set the mind frame of OFWs from being dependent on other people for help to being enabled workers who can proactively access information before they need it. Through the PDOS, our OFWs can also adjust to their new workplace within the first six months, considered by many as the most critical period for newly transplanted migrant workers.

Majority of the PDOS sessions are handled by OWWA and its regional offices. Some, however, are handled by non-government organizations (NGOs) and accredited agencies which comprise the over 291 OWWA-accredited PDOS providers throughout the country. This is the result of constant consultations with industry stakeholders as well as the well-settled principle that migration is a shared responsibility between the government and the private sector.

Although PDOS can be conducted by different organizations, it still follows the module that OWWA designed for a specific country.

How long is PDOS session for skilled workers? In theory, PDOS should be conducted in not less than five hours. The reality, however, is that it usually takes a whole day in order to accommodate the many questions from the participants.

Domestic workers, being the more vulnerable sector, are made to undergo additional PDOS sessions by way of the comprehensive pre-departure education program (CPDEP), which includes courses on language training, stress management and cultural familiarization.

Those bound for the Middle East, for instance, take four days of basic Arabic, comprised of one PDOS and three CPDEP classes. Those going to Taiwan take six days of Mandarin lessons spread out through one PDOS class and five CPDEP sessions.

Hong Kong-bound domestic workers undergo three days of basic Cantonese to enable them to assimilate faster in their new community, with part of one PDOS session and two CPDEP sessions devoted to this language training.

The PDOS sessions are also differentiated as to the type of worker. For land-based workers, the seminar includes departure tips such as how to prepare one’s luggage, how to go through the airport procedures, and how to avoid scams at the airport. OFWs are also given pointers on what to do in times of crisis and natural disasters.

And because most of our OFWs are economic migrants, hoping to improve the standard of living of their families in the Philippines, the PDOS includes personal finance lessons to teach migrant workers financial awareness and possible investment opportunities.

For sea-based OFWs
In addition to these sessions, sea-based migrant workers are taught the common causes of disputes and the possible remedies based on their standard employment contract and as provided by the Maritime Labor Convention – the international labor standards for seafarers.

In particular, sea-based OFWs are given an orientation on the minimum requirement for seafarers to work on a ship, the working conditions on ships, the minimum standards for accommodation and recreational facilities, as well as food and catering on board vessels, required medical care on board ship and ashore, health and safety protection and accident prevention measures on vessels, and access to shore-based welfare facilities.

Since sea-based OFWs spend several months at sea, often without stepping on dry land for weeks, they are also taught during their PDOS class on how to cope with work and living conditions on board their ships.

Once the OFW lands abroad, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in their country of destination conducts a post-arrival orientation seminar (PAOS) on the receiving country’s profile, culture, economy, education, laws and working environment. Topics on the do’s and don’ts in the host country, including precautionary measures to take in case of work malpractice, are also discussed during the PAOS.

Of course, no amount of seminar or training can truly empower our migrant workers unless they take to heart the lessons taught during the PEOS, PDOS and PAOS – and more importantly, seize the initiative to acquire crucial information and skills to better assimilate themselves in their country of destination.

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