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The BM Online’s Teething Problems

10 January 2017

By Jalilo O. Dela Torre, Labor Attache

“Mabuti pa noon, ang bilis lang kumuha ng OEC. Pila ka lang at magbayad, okay na. Ngayon, pahirapan! Buti pang ibalik na lang yung dati!”

These are some of the unflattering comments we hear not only in the lift, in the queuing bridge, or on the MTR, but even right in our face. Most of it is true. But as implementors of the new POEA policy exempting categories of workers from having to obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate or OEC through the BM Online, we regard this criticism as fodder which we need to eat. In other words, bring it on. Next year, the ease and convenience it will afford our workers will far outweigh this one-time sacrifice.

The trouble with the new system is that workers who are qualified under the new policy need to be registered before they can get exempted, and that means having to obtain an OEC online. The process is a little complicated, but help is available.

There is no other way to make the BM Online work, except through a relentless and dogged campaign to register our workers online. This may have resulted into long queues, anger, heated arguments, some tears, anxiety and frustration, but there is no other way. We wish we could lessen the pain, but each worker has to find the means and the patience somehow to get familiar with the system and register. If she prefers to get help from POLO HK, we do offer tutorials.

The more workers who register, the less number of people crowding in POLO in the future. The more people who help our workers register, the better. It is an attrition challenge: the more sustained our campaign is for workers’ registration, the better the system works, the less pain in the future. Sacrifice today, convenience the next time.

Having learned to render this service myself, and trouble-shoot some issues a bit, I have concluded that for an average worker, registering online can be a real challenge. The data labels are confusing, some data fields aren’t necessary and when the system bogs down as it had several times, there is no offline version that can be used to prevent disruption of the service.

But many of the problems which makes registration a hair-pulling experience is related to technical issues like: passwords being forgotten, accounts becoming inactive because the confirmation link sent to the applicant’s email address had not been clicked, or when a former user signs in as a new user. These are technical problems that can be addressed by the computer programmer. We have strongly recommended that these issues be addressed by POEA. In addition, we have also asked the POEA, to which the latter agreed, that workers in HK be given temporary exemption during the Christmas season and that the compulsory online registration be done after they’ve come back to HK. For some reason, POEA decided to withdraw the temporary exemption facility.

What is difficult to address are the human-related issues. People walking in ahead of their appointments. People walking in without a clue how to start the process of registration. People demanding to be served ahead of everybody else.

We have tried to accommodate all kinds the best we could. On Sundays, the walk-ins are only served after those with appointments are done, which is around late afternoon. We have opened our doors up to 8 pm to accommodate the walk-ins. We have suspended our computer training for OFWs to devote the use of our OWWA desktops to tutoring our workers. We have beefed up our crowd control volunteers at the bridge. We have increased the number of volunteers who can give tutorials and do evaluation. We have opened even on weekends and holidays. We have called on communities to help out and big groups like JIL have brilliantly responded. We have conducted a briefing for community volunteers who might be able to help. We have even made it mandatory for agencies to register the workers they are hiring or rehiring.

But our workers need to take some of the responsibility and meet us half way. They can help us by:
   1)  registering early, and acquiring their OECs or exemption only a few days before their travel date, and not to worry about minor errors in their profiles, because the evaluator can correct those;
   2)  obtain their OECs in the Philippines, something which we encourage every chance we get at the queuing bridge;
3) for those who are already familiar with the system, to help others.
4) for those without appointments, to walk in late afternoon.

The Unifil group is calling for its outright abolition, not just exemption. This isn’t my call. This should be addressed to POEA and its Governing Board chaired by Secretary Bello. To tell you the truth, we’d be relieved if the its abolition is ordered because it would free up a good chunk of our physical, financial and human resources, which we could otherwise devote to more meaningful services for our workers.

Until it is decreed, however, we have no choice but to make this service available to our workers. And if this means having to endure criticism, so be it. We roll with the punches because for as long as the complaints are about the process, we can continue to work on its improvement.

But every coin has two sides. Some of the more rewarding comments we get are when some of the workers we have served say, ”Ay ganyan pala yan. Next time pala, exemption na lang aplayan ko. Hindi na ako babalik dito, Sir? Ang galing!” Others were clearly pleased when after going online, a message just popped out: Congratulations. You are exempted”. They needed to be re-assured that yes, that was all they need to show at the airport.

This is not a self-congratulatory note. POEA needs to simplify the process and reduce the number of data fields. We need to be better in communicating to the community that this new technology has birthing pains, but that it will get better as we refine its procedures to make it less painful to users.
But if we are to make this work, we need the help of our community.

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