the king is dead, long live the king!


LOOK WHO HAD US FOR LUNCH. Cabeza de Barangay de los Islas Filipinas and Secretary-General elect of FIRST Union, His Excellency Amb Gary Domingo and Kasamang Dennis Maga, just orienting us about the new Labour government. Mabuhay kayo!

[ Paunawa: in my five-plus years of blogging, I’m trying something new Precious Reader, albeit just for this post only. I’ll stop “journalistic pretense” or neutral discussion of the issues coinciding with the arrival of the new Labour Government in New Zealand, and tell it like it is, how these issues affect me personally. it’s one of the few perks of blogging, which is using an exclusively personal perspective, which is after all, how we live life, diba? ]

ESPECIALLY  IN countries with a parliamentary government, change can come in an instant. Call a snap election, regret it for the rest of your life. Just ask Theresa May of the United Kingdom. I’m not 100% sure, but Bill English could’ve taken his sweet time before announcing elections, although in hindsight, the writing was on the wall.

I confess I was one of those who were concerned about the ascension of Jacinda Ardern and the Labour party to power, with a little help from Winston Peters and his friends in the New Zealand First party. The only thing worse than a bad government is fear of the unknown; to what depths  a mismanaged economy will lead us, and the backlash against migrants and guest workers that  new government brings.

On the other side of the coin, there is a bukangliwayway  (sunrise) of new initiatives, new policies and ambitious plans to uplift the standard of living of people, renew the drive to preserve New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand, and other schemes that the previous government somehow lost sight of.

No matter what side of the fence you sit on, you can’t help but give the new custodians of government the chance to do well, even though, as human nature dictates, one resists change, embraces the old comfort zones, and is wary of efforts to change the old ways in favor of the new.

Please believe when I say this, Kabayan or Precious Reader because, even with my cozy comforts in New Zealand, I’m still caught between a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea if you want. Sure I’m comfortable with a good job, a great environment and a very peaceful host country. But without getting into too much detail, I have no permanence, no long-term status, nothing I can call truly my own as a guest worker in New Zealand. So if there’s any change, and I say I’m wary about it, you might wanna give my words more weight than usual.

Courtesy of a kabayan who now has the ear of the Labour Party and has been working for both Pinoy OFW and resident workers in New Zealand long before the Labor-led coalition, he personally wanted to clear up a few of the concerns I aired in a previous blog (nakarating sa kanya, wow!):

Raising the minimum wage immediately, and up to $20 by 2020. I’m very lucky to be receiving a little more than the minimum wage of $15.25 an hour, especially since for a 1st World nation, it doesn’t leave much after the very basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. One of the first priorities of the incoming Labor government is raising it towards the goal of the so-called living wage of $20. Many of our kabayan in the South Island are grateful to be working in New Zealand, but are not receiving much more than minimum, if at all.

This sounds partisan, but please don’t believe titans and apologists of big business when they say that kung tataasan nyo ang sahod hanggang di na namin kaya, magsasara na lang kami (If you’re gonna raise minimum wages to unreasonable levels, we might as well shut down the business). In the first place, there is always a balance between keeping your workers happy and keeping the business viable. Wages should always be a factor in maintaining your enterprise, no make that reasonable wages. I don’t want to use my example too much, but our employer negotiates with our site bargaining unit every two years, and encourages non-union members to join, all the better to keep moving forward across the board. It may sound harsh but it’s the reality: a business who can’t pay the legislated wage rate has no business to be in business (and keep using lame puns like this) 🙂

Maintaining realities and priorities in keeping migrant numbers where they are. You will start hearing this from the party in power now, and it makes sense: You can’t stick to a hard number when it comes to net migration. In the first place, it’s the economy, not legislation, that dictates the ultimate number when it comes to how many migrants are needed. Look at Dubai, Singapore and other countries that have readily admitted the migrant reality: a vibrant and growing economy cannot survive without migrant labor. That’s the simple truth. Overall, the two priorities of the incumbents will be tweaking the Skilled Migrant visa pathways (there are many under this general policy) so that only truly qualified migrants continue to come in, and reducing the Student Visa numbers, which admittedly is the area where abuse is rampant. There’s no other way to say that last sentence, nadadamay ang mga Pinoy dahil sa ginagawa ng ibang mga lahi sa student visa, with the cooperation and tolerance of educational institutions here.

Making it easier for those who are already here. I’ve used this phrase often, but I’ll use it again.  There are more than a few guest workers in NZ who have a reasonable expectation of deserving NZ permanent residency, and yet have “fallen between the cracks.” How so ? They are useful enough to be considered skilled, and yet not skilled enough to be considered for residency. They are skilled enough to be granted work visas, and yet aren’t paid enough to be considered for permanent residency. And so on and so forth. Their jobs have disappeared from the so-called long term and short term skills shortage lists, yet strangely enough, continue to be in the rosters of their employers for years and years.

This isn’t fair for them. Because of the Christchurch rebuild, Pinoys (and other migrants) have a chance to get out of their limbo and apply for residency, but shouldn’t this privilege be granted to all who deserve it, New Zealand-wide? Pinoys are highly valued, dependable and loyal workers who in many cases have worked for their bosses, faithfully consistently, and without fail. Labour has made the right noises in this direction, and this will give many kabayan all over New Zealand, this blogger included, a big sigh of relief.

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I have to give credit to the new Labour Government, specifically my kabayan source who so rapidly told me it’s not all doom and gloom under the new order. Thank you very much Ginoong Dennis Maga, Secretary General-elect of the FIRST Union, and an acknowledged champion for workers rights, not just Pinoys, but everyone who works an honest 8 hours a day in Aotearoa. Thanks too Your Excellency Ambassador Gary Domingo for gamely providing such a filling lunch in the process!  Mabuhay kayo!

And thanks kabayan and friends for reading!

kung bakit dehado ang mga bisitang obrerong Pinoy sa pamahalaang NZ Labour*


it’s becoming harder and harder. Thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to thefifthstate.com.au!

IN A PERFECT WORLD, Pinoy guest workers in New Zealand will continue to receive the benefit of the doubt on whether or not they are still needed in the country,  potential applicants will continue to be invited to apply for permanent resident status, and the  parent sibling and other categories under the Family Category visa pathways will soon be reinstated, much to the relief of Pinoy families of both sides of the Philippines – New Zealand divide.

In the land of reality, however, you and I live with the cold, hard facts:  the crow’s feathers will whiten (pagputi ng uwak) before the closed visa pathways will be reopened, any guest workers who’ve fallen behind when the gates were shut will probably stay there under a Labour Government, and the general climate for Pinoy guest workers from today will get a lot worse before it gets any better.

[ This is not professional opinion, just a tiny voice in the roaring wilderness, not being negative but putting up a wet finger to gauge the general direction of the wind. Napag-uusapan lang po. ]

Unless you were in a cave, comatose or hiding under a great big rock, you probably heard that last Thursday the 19th, the New Zealand First party, holders of 7% of the party vote, gave its support to the New Zealand Labour Party, which won around 35% of the seats in NZ Parliament. Combined with the Greens party votes, it was (barely) enough to hold a majority, which gave Jacinda Ardern and the NZ Labour Party its first taste of power in eight years.

By itself it doesn’t mean anything, but (1) a commitment to cut student and work visas by 25,000 to 30,000, (2) a general policy to promote jobs for New Zealanders (a motherhood statement but one that Labour will be held to for sure) and (3) the focus on reducing unemployment, reducing people on the benefit and easing underemployment all point to stress and unease for Pinoy guest workers in NZ.

Let me tell you why:

Caught between the cracks. Under the Essential Skills work visa program, if an employer (1) can’t find qualified locals to work in a particular job or position, (2), finds it impractical to train New Zealanders for said position, (3) can find suitable guest workers for that position, then a Work Visa can be issued to a non-New Zealander.

Many kabayan have gotten jobs this way. It is reasonable to expect them, after a while, to be eligible or qualified to be permament residents especially if their employers continue to hire them, encourage them to apply for another work visa, or even broach the idea of permanent residence in the future.

However, to be invited to apply for permanent residence, the kabayan must qualify under specific Resident Visa pathways, two of which (there may be others, but I don’t know about them) are the Short and Long-Term Skills Shortage List, or the Work To Residence Program. These pathways are independent of the Work Visa program and require different evidence from what the Essential Skills Work Visa require.

Now, under a Labour-led coalition government, where the cutting of migrant jobs and locals-centered job generation is the centerpiece policy, do you think any Pinoys holding work visas can expect a friendlier visa regime? As my wife Mahal sez, mas malabo pa sa sabaw ng pusit.

Remuneration bands. Now, shortly before the elections, the National Party government decided to tweak the immigration policy in a vague, not to mention belated attempt to win “pogi points” (brownie points) from the New Zealand public. Among the measures were the introduction of “remuneration bands” to determine if a guest worker was skilled enough to qualify for future residency. Below a certain amount ($47,000 annually I think) you were considered unskilled. Earn in a certain range ($47,001 to $70,000), you were considered mid-skilled. Anything above a certain amount, and you were considered highly-skilled, and automatically qualified for residency.

I don’t know if you’re aware of this kabayan, but under the special Dairy Worker visa pathway in the South Island, some of our countrymen are already practically running the farms for their employers, from sunup to sundown. Their bosses love them for accepting jobs Kiwis won’t take, love them for dedication, and love them for turning up to work every single day of the year.

But you know why else their employers love them? Because our kabayan are willing to work for wages New Zealanders won’t even consider in easy jobs (farming is definitely not easy), much less in physically and mentally challenging roles. This same reasonable, bargain-basement rates that Pinoys are willing to work for are the same “remuneration bands” that will NEVER let them get within a kilometer of becoming NZ permanent residents. Sad but true.

Now, do you think anything will change in a Labour government? That crow (uwak) better get some serious reading material before it thinks it will become a dove (kalapati).

And lastly . . .

temporarily closing Parent Category. Late last year, as a means of putting its finger in the dike against overwhelming permanent residence applications, Immigration New Zealand (the government office issuing resident visas) temporarily put on hold Parent Category Visas, where obviously parents of permanent residents, three years after the latter were granted resident status, could apply for residency themselves. Word was, anytime next year, the Parent Category could and would be reinstated,

But that was under a National government. Everything changes with a change of government, that’s as clear as day. It’s becoming a tiresome refrain, but under a Labour-led coalition government, can you expect an immigrant and migrant-friendly policy, to the extent of honoring commitments of the previous administration? As they say, all bets are off. Another nice way of saying it would be it’s a very fluid situation, especially for kabayan who haven’t started anything application-wise.  I wish I could be more positive, but the reality is anything but.

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You’ve probably noticed this Precious Reader, but this is more than just dispassionate discussion for me. Blogging is an intensely personal endeavor, whether it’s about a hobby, your religion, or ideology. For me, it’s just about my life, experiences and my gut feel about certain things. It should be obvious why I have strong views about this particular issue, but telling you now would color your own views further, about the issue and about me (for sure, there are always two sides to every issue, I concede). Maybe next time.

Suffice it to say now that for a lot of us kabayan in Aoteroa, these are uncertain times.

thanks for reading, mabuhay!

*or “why it’s against the odds for Pinoy guest workers in a Labour-led government”

 

the BIGGEST non-issue in NZ elections ’17 and why it still matters


LunchAtopASkyscraper

longer lunch hours for migrant workers will definitely help improve the profile of whoever forms a coalition government with New Zealand First 🙂

[ Paunawa: sincere apologies everyone, nothing here is backed up by research, stats or expert analysis, napag-uusapan lang po and is based on the Man on The Street’s barbershop opinion, mabuhay po tayong lahat! ]

THE CLOSEST THING anyone got to talking about the biggest non-issue last NZ elections was when dearly departed Labour Party leader Andrew Little (who did his party the biggest favor by giving way to Jacinda Ardern, I’m not being partisan by any means), days before his resignation from the Labour Party leadership, said something like when we win the majority in Parliament, we will take away thousands of jobs away from immigrants.

As simple as that. He spent the next 24 hours and the next media cycle (a period of time during which a major news story get coverage on multi-media, and after which media moves on to the next big news event) explaining himself, what he meant exactly and how he intended to do such a thing. Unsurprisingly, such a thoughtless statement didn’t score him any points on the polls and, falling on his sword, he handed in his resignation a very short time later.

Without consulting anyone, I can remember this fairly clearly because it was one of the more memorable pronouncements of the campaign. Nobody, and I mean nobody makes a statement like that, taking away jobs, whether from immigrants or what-not, and not expose himself/herself to repercussions. It was a mighty gamble, designed to win sympathy from the unemployed and underemployed, and whoever thinks migrants are taking jobs away from New Zealanders, but here’s the thing : the skilled migrant visa pathway of the NZ Government works, and most migrant jobs are jobs that New Zealanders can’t, or won’t take.

Note I didn’t say the whole residency / visa pathway of Immigration works, nor that there is an imbalance in the number of guest / foreign workers in New Zealand, and what New Zealand can absorb without harming its own citizens. That would take a lot of figuring, analysis and economic models requiring serious study taking longer than the time it takes to post this blog, or prepare tonight’s dinner.

You’ve probably guessed what that hot non-issue is: the unlamented Andrew Little gave his two cents about the IMMIGRATION issue, paid for it with his resignation (although he might have survived, he would’ve led Labour to oblivion under his leadership anyway), and guess what? NO ONE of consequence, not National’s leadership, Labour’s leadership, or any of the other fringe parties said ANYTHING about the IMMIGRATION issue (I’m typing it in caps just so there’s no mistake) for the rest of the campaign. See how a sensitive topic it was?

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And yet, whoever forms a government this October (we have a hung parliament, or an elections that produced a parliament without any single party holding a majority of seats needed to govern), will have to deal squarely with the issue of immigration. It is more important than education and crime, and perhaps equally as important as the economy, employment and the quality of life in New Zealand for the next decades. I’m no expert, but this in my humble opinion is the single most important issue the next government needs to tackle, particularly because:

Immigration is a gamechanger for national life. Migrants fill jobs. Migrants are contributors to the trades and professions. Migrants are contributors to research, development and innovation across the cutting edge fields of science and technology. Migrants jump start massive consumer spending. And migrants via entrepreneurship and investment further spur growth, repeating the cycle of business growth leading to more and better jobs leading to increased spending. Reset, repeat.

Government knows this. Migration may not always be a good look if you want to keep locals happy, but the alternative would be almost unthinkable. It doesn’t matter if you’re National, Labour, Greens or New Zealand First. Can you or I or anyone imagine a New Zealand without Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Pacific Islander or all other races of migrants. In an unguarded, candid statement, then Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said it best : without immigration, the outlook is bleak.

And even then, regardless of any more immigration tweaks, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. If we need any more idioms: locking the barn door after the horse is gone, aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo, hope you’ve had enough. The “multiplier effect” of each migrant assimilating into New Zealand is staggering: spouse or partners and children of productive and income-generating migrants are not only expected but also anticipated by New Zealand, as the gravitational pull of love and family towards the lucky migrant is universal.

Whoever forms the next government, they can’t pull the plug on new migrants based on relationships with migrants already in New Zealand. Even the mothballed parent and sibling migrant pathways won’t stop immediate family members following their successful relatives on their own merit (on other pathways).

And how about current special work visa pathways specific to Pinoys and other Asians (dairy workers, scaffolders, Christchurch rebuild)? The world is not going to come to a standstill when a new government rises in the Beehive (NZ’s version of the Batasan). The fact of the matter is, migrants will continue to be in demand, in NZ, Australia and elsewhere. Is that so hard to accept?

And lastly…

Immigration is an issue that won’t go away. Let’s face it. All of the guest workers currently in NZ are potential permanent residents. They wouldn’t have taken the chance to work so far away, in uncertain circumstances, if they didn’t at least have a ghost of a chance to become future citizens here. Whether migrant entrants year-on-year are to be maintained, increased or decreased, it is reasonable to expect that migrants will figure prominently in the New Zealand economy, for good or bad (but mostly good).

It didn’t figure prominently during the campaign, probably because it was too hot to handle, but the migration / immigration issue, believe you me kabayan, will affect every single New Zealander for the next 50 years.

And probably long after that. Mabuhay and thanks for reading!

 

meet maricel the dreamcatcher


Maricel Holger and new PRs

Maricel (light blue shirt in the middle) with her family Holger and Katerina and just a few of the kabayan whose dreams she helped fulfill in New Zealand.

[Note: The second of my two-part padyak series, Wellington to Auckland, meeting remarkable Kiwi-Pinoy Aucklanders. First was on Cong Lito Banal, and second is Binibining Maricel Weischede.  So sorry it took so long, thanks for reading, mabuhay! ]

NO ONE will question us Kabayan when we say that the Pinoy who chases the dream of a better life abroad is the captain of his/her fate, the master of his/her soul (thanks and acknowledgment to that Invictus guy). Blaming no one for our setbacks but sharing the credit for our successes, you and I are the authors of our fate, the makers of our destiny. Given na yan (that’s a given).

But along the way, we owe little and big favors to those who help us carry our load, those who, accidentally or not, eavesdrop on our dreams and help us chase them, those who have the talent and tools to realizing our most cherished goals more realizable. Filipinos may be below-average physically, but figuratively we can always stand on the shoulders of giants who helped paved the pathway towards our rainbow’s end.

If so far you’ve indulged me in this rare mood of poetic flair, please indulge me some more. I came across a kabayan of such a description, who’s spent a good part of the last decade helping fellow Pinoys jump-start their dreams by catching the sparkle of their dreams and filtering it through the sieve of hard realities, useful advice and immigration laws of New Zealand.

If the role of dreamcatcher sounds demanding, that’s because this kabayan has demanded the utmost from herself in terms of training and professionalism. Back in the days when  immigration consultancy was a cowboy, hole-in-the-wall industry, Maricel Weischede was the first fully licensed Filipino immigration adviser in New Zealand in 2008 . Not only that, her proactive stance led her to be the only kabayan to be part of the consultative Immigration Advisers Association (IAA) Reference Group for two terms while also serving as three-term director of the New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment.

Maricel knows that the best way to bridging the gap between dreams and realities of migrant hopefuls was with two weapons: expertise and experience, so the decade-long success she has achieved has been due in part to her being the first Pinoy to obtain the qualification (equivalent to a certification) from Massey University (Certificate of Proficiency in Immigration Law and Policy) as well as the first Pinoy to obtain a Graduate Certificate in Immigration Advice from the Waikato University – Bay of Plenty Consortium.

By far however, Maricel’s signature experience as an immigration adviser is being part of the Cadbury Dream Team that, against all odds, brought a family together two years back. In case you missed it, here’s a video clip, sorry we couldn’t find the whole episode (probably for copyright reasons):


Which doesn’t take anything away from each and every success story from the hundreds of Filipinos and their families she has helped migrate to, and reunite in, New Zealand. Just as every green-lighted application has been as satisfying as her very first (way back in 2006), each denial has brought her down to earth, with a resounding disappointment that only makes her work harder.

Although no service or profession should be judged purely on numbers alone, Maricel’s consultancy has recently brought in its 1000th successful application, counting all immigration and visa categories, and she has no intention of stopping.

As if all these weren’t enough, our kabayan will add value to her services by seeking admission to the New Zealand bar next year, completing all her requirements by the end of this year.

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It sounds like a high-tech slogan, but Maricel, for the hundreds of families she has helped, has augmented their reality by adding details, comforts and possibilities that have made their lives so much more enriching, in a land of unlimited potential.

In her own words: Migration is a life changing decision. I wish to make a difference in that life-changing decision by providing immigration advice that is straightforward, with no gimmickry, and just honest to goodness options and presentation of eligibility to various visa pathways.

Duh? You have ALREADY made a difference in so many kabayan lives Maricel. Mabuhay ka!

Thanks for reading!

*It’s not a plug (actually, it is), but you may contact Ms Maricel Weischede and her immigration consultancy NZ Immigration Help Service Limited either by visiting http://www.nzimmigrationhelpservice.com or contacting her Auckland branch +6498364935, her Christchurch branch +6434218138, or emailing her directly at m.weischede@nzimmigrationhelpservice.com. Cheers!

why surrendering my ATM to Mahal is ultimately better


of course this is an exaj. The real symbol is male and female, hand in hand. 🙂

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY last weekend I felt an odd sensation in my back pocket; specifically my wallet. A certain item there made my billfold (a nearly useless article, it hardly contains any bills or banknotes) a little bulkier than usual: it contained my ATM or bank card.

*****     *****     *****

Let me backtrack a bit for your enlightenment Precious Reader. An hour before she left for work, I asked Mahal my beauteous wife if I could go out for a Kiwi Big Breakfast at McDo on my own, it being my last rest day before another week of night shift and with unexpected sunshine to enjoy (with its defrosting gale-force windsearly Wellington spring is sometimes a bit colder than winter, brrrr). No problem she said, and out from her purse she whips out my ATM.

Haven’t seen that in a while, I quip.

Oo nga, so alagaan mo sya, she comes right back at me. (yeah, so please take care of it.)

So I buy myself a fast-food and nutritionally underwhelming breakfast (I’m so cheap I really just wanna read the free weekend paper, just as much), buy a few meaningless things at the riverside weekend market, and gamble on a lotto ticket (which might turn out to be a one-way ticket home, malay mo), but overall it was a feeling I hadn’t had for some time: alone, and spending money. For this reason, let me tell you why.

Shared stress in budgeting. For a few years now, by mutual consent I’ve surrendered possession of my ATM to my better half as it is by itself a symbolic and actual abdication of any and all responsibility to pay the household bills. This delicious prospect shouldn’t be confused with the actual duty of earning salapi with which to put food on the table, pay power and telecom bills (water in Wellington is generally free); I am bound to that forever. However, since I have forsaken access to funds for that purpose, I am no longer saddled with the stress to deal with same on a daily basis. Guess whose pretty shoulders that unenviable task now falls on, since she now has sole access to the funds (wink wink).

Don’t get me wrong please. Mahal, baka due na yung Trustpower? or Mahal, nalimutan mo ata yung beer sale kahapon sa Countdown are still helpful hints that I can nudge Mahal with. But that’s about it. Ain’t life great? 🙂

Added sympathy vote. Believe it or not, when you no longer have control over the principal bank account, you actually gain sympathy when it comes to asking for money for your own expenses, as human nature favors the person who gives way or forfeits power. So when I spot my favorite Batman or Game of Thrones collectible action figure on sale, or when there’s an unexpected beer and wine sale at the corner supermarket, all I need to do is smile my sweetest smile at the ATM custodian, and ask in my cutest voice, penge namang $20 love, panggastos lang?  It never fails.

Extra help, here and there. And lastly, this is an unintended side effect, but for those times when the hard-earned wages for the week ain’t enough for the gastusin (weekly expenses), because Mahal has the first-hand or personal knowledge of the budget deficit, she is in the best position to shore up the shortfall, either from hidden savings she’s squirreled away, or from her own resources (she works 35 hours at the neighborhood mall). Either way, it’s an excellent assist from her in my effort to be principal breadwinner, in fact the enterprise is now a joint effort, and there is no shame in that admission.

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Years and years ago, when I was younger than I can remember, every fortnight on my mother’s bureau dresser was a thick envelope containing my dad’s sweldo. On the pay envelope itself was written all the figures my mom needed to know: My dad’s gross pay, less, withholding tax, less social security and medicare contributions, and any deductions from loans my mom knew about. Nothing was kept by my dad; he even recorded Christmas bonuses and overtime pay. Whether it was his utmost honesty or respect for my mother’s homemaking role, the result was the same: a tradition I and undoubtedly all my brothers have kept.

If I’ve ruffled any feathers or sown any discord as a result of this disclosure, apologies in advance. All I know is a happy wife means a happy life. For this and all other ATM-free husbands!

Thanks for reading!