Prize and price for OFWs




The Manila Times


ANGELA poured measured portions of cream of coconut, pineapple juice, lime juice, pineapple chunks and ice into the blender while Jack and Rexie looked from across the Covey’s Bar. Outside, the rain also started to pour as visitors and guests from outside Nasugbu, Batangas, enjoyed the cold, fresh water raindrops mixed with the warm ocean water of the West Philippine Sea. Earlier in the week, China released its new 10-dash line claiming most of the West Philippine Sea, resulting in a rare collective condemnation of Beijing’s move in relation to the sea region disputed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, India and the Philippines. “How long have you been a bartender?” Jack asked Angela as she transferred the blended piña colada to a highball glass tumbler. “Just over a year,” Angela replied without spilling a drop. “Right after working in Saudi Arabia as a domestic helper.” “Been here at Canyon Cove for over a year,” she said. “Beats the heat and stress in Riyadh. Although I had to take lessons in bartending and on-the-job training.” It turns out that during the pandemic, Canyon Cove was one of the hotels where arriving passengers at NAIA were allowed to quarantine. The hotel needed additional staff, and being a Nasugbu native, she was able to respond to the call, took OJT training, and was eventually hired. “You ordered a Daiquiri, Rexie?” Angela called out to Jack’s female companion. Both were visiting from Toronto. “Please,” Rexie replied, “and could you make it 1 ounce of white rum? Double my alcohol. I need it.” Angela grabbed the bottle of rum, doubled the requested ingredient, and added half an ounce each of syrup and lime juice. She then pressed the ice dispenser into the shaker, and after giving it a vigorous up, down and around, she poured the cocktail and handed it to Rexie on top of a coaster. About 10 kilometers away outside the hotel and spa resort, Mayette was preparing a solution to give a foot scrub to a guest before she would get a full body scrub and massage. Like Angela, Mayette is an ex-OFW from Saudi Arabia, where she worked for eight years before returning to Nasugbu with savings and a stake in a reputable spa place in Nasugbu. Both happily confessed that they were lucky to have good employers as domestic helpers. The stress and work hours, however, got to them. They were lucky to have been part of the OFWs repatriated during the Covid-19 pandemic. The two Batangueñas could very well have applied to be caregivers in Canada or even as home support or child support workers. When asked why they did not do so, Mayette said her spa and massage parlor were doing well. Not as much income compared to her Saudi salary in riyals, but she is close to home and family. Angela said it was the cost of applying for the position that held her back. Informed that Canada prohibits employers or agencies from charging recruitment and placement fees to applicants, she said that the rules are good on paper, but the reality still requires an applicant to put up a significant amount to “qualify during the application stage with a licensed recruitment agency, the trips from Nasugbu to Metro Manila for NBI and related documentation. “But I have not lost hope,” Angela said while seeing if either Jack or Rexie needed seconds. Apparently, Angela was able to get a referral from another customer who knew of a reputable licensed agency with openings for domestic helpers in Singapore. “Returning to work in a household as a domestic helper may not sound as exciting as a barista, but the pay is much better,” the 27-year-old admitted. “And Singapore is not Saudi.” The student visa option is not an immediate choice for Angela. She might have had more than a year’s experience as a bartender, but taking up a hospitality course in Toronto or Vancouver would require at least CA$8,000 for tuition per semester and CA$10,000 as show money. “Need to earn and save more,” Angela almost whispered as she turned around to take another customer’s order. “Then I can really reap the benefits, like winning a prize,” Angela added because she’s aware that Canada allows international students to work while studying, and after completing her course, she can stay for two to three years working full-time in Canada during the post-graduate work permit stage. A barista gets an average salary of CA$16.43 per hour. A week’s pay would be CA$326.80, or CA$1,307.20 a month. During the eight-month academic period when Angela could work 20 hours a week with an additional five hours of full-time work during weekends, her income could add up to close to CA$2,000 a month. The ability to work full-time during the four-month total when school is not in session will give Angela another CA$10,515.20. All she needs is some time and sufficient savings for her tuition and show money. Angela seems to have balanced the cost and benefit of studying in Canada — the price and prize, so to speak. She also has friends who studied and or worked in Australia and New Zealand. From their Facebook chats and the news coming from the two countries during the pandemic, Angela was convinced Canada is a better destination for international students with the intention of pursuing a student-workto-permanent residency pathway. The rain had stopped. But not the waves. In Batangas and other areas where most OFWs come from, the torrential offer of jobs for domestic helpers and caregivers may have suffered a lull, both because of the pandemic and the various incidents that put Saudi Arabia on the defense for the recorded abuse of domestic employees and the international condemnation of the Middle East kingdom for the abduction, reported torture and murder of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in October 2018. But the waves of OFWs continue to lap into the shores of the Middle East kingdom and countries. In June this year, the Department of Migrant Workers told CNN Philippines that the DMW is “seeing more demand for overseas Filipino workers as it projects 2023 deployment to exceed the 1.2 million OFW deployment recorded in 2022.” Meanwhile, at night, cargo ships sailed silently along the disputed 10-dash line as the governments of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, India and the Philippines hoped that a sudden thunderstorm of inadvertent clashes between Filipino fishermen and Chinese fishing vessels would not spark a war that could mirror the Russia-Ukraine war. And delay the prize that OFWs — including Angela — believe is just another rainless day away.