the last 36 of the last work week of summer


A pleasant surprise : "Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running the last few weeks -Ben (obviously the supervisor)"  Awww..

A pleasant surprise : “Noel : thank you for changing your hours and working O.T. (overtime) to get the retail (packer) up and running. -Ben (obviously the supervisor) On top are two supermarket vouchers totalling $50. Awww..

THROUGHOUT HIS professional life, Dad was/is a deskbound, adding machine-holstered white-collar worker, but he was always blue-collar in attitude and approached work the way a wage-paid laborer did.  Day in and day out he answered the call, and only the most extreme reason could keep him from work.  Showing up everyday and on time shows you care for your job, he said in so many words.  It didn’t matter how high or low you were on the totem pole, if you were there ready and good to go, ready for your mission, then the boss looked good, and if the boss looked good, then oftener than not, things would look good for you.

It was just as well for me when I carried on with that work ethic in New Zealand where I now live and work, ’cause it seemed that in blue-collar Wellington, where the luck of the draw landed me, everyone who liked his job (and lots of those who didn’t) showed up for work every day that the Lord made (or bawat araw na ginawa ng Diyos, if you like), 15 minutes before the bell rang, and bright and cheery for work.

Bright and cheery also included being battle-ready for anything new on the menu, meaning if training or upskilling was available, you grabbed the offer, because usually that meant new machinery or new positions were emerging in the workplace.  On the record nothing would be taken against you if you refused, but the boss would remember the next time you needed a favor or when advancement was appearing, and likelier than not you wouldn’t be recommended.

So work ethic and “optional training” had combined to give me the position of backup operator on the brand-new packing machine.  Theoretically, as long as I was dependable and a third shift was needed, I was their man.  Unfortunately, theory turned into reality when one of the regular packers accepted a supervisor’s job in his hometown’s winery, an irresistible prospect for him, and because of staffing issues the packing machine quickly fell 200 man-hours behind based on a constantly increasing order schedule.

To truncate a potentially longish story, I was transferred from my regular department to packing, on a 10-hour 0500 to 1500 shift to make up for lost hours.  Before the end of the second day the site manager decided that even that wasn’t enough, and asked the packing supervisor to ask me if I could change from morning/afternoon shift to the graveyard shift.  Before even thinking, and undoubtedly because of Pinoy pakisama I just said “sure why not?”  After all, the week was almost over, and the overtime money couldn’t hurt.

Famous last words.

It's a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

It’s a different model, but this is what the packer looks like

Problem is, 12 hours during the night is a bit different from 12 hours during the day.  The lack of sunlight and daytime warmth makes the hours stretch endlessly, and the lack of human company stretches same even longer.  It helps that you keep going round and round a machine roughly 10 square meters in area, and constantly feed it paper bags, glue and plastic rolls for the bag bundler oven.  You also weigh product regularly and never stop monitoring the various conveyors, metal detector, bundle labeller and robot palletizer.

In short, while the work is tedious and wears on your limbs, if you do your work, you almost never get sleepy.  The machine was notorious for kinks on any or all of its various innards, but because the catchup production was a high priority, the site manager actually gave me the round-the-clock assistance of the plant engineer, unheard of before she thought of doing it.

And all this, heading headfirst into the biting wind of autumn.  Summer was long gone and on annual leave.

***               ***               ***

The first night was the hardest, because jams on the conveyor were constantly holding up production.  The scale inside the packing machine needed at least one recalibration, and the metal detector was either too sensitive or not sensitive enough.  But as soon as the different machines settled in, production was smooth for the rest of the night.

This is what the robot palletizer looks like.  Ours has a cage around it, because you don't want to be ANYWHERE near it when it's working;  one hit and you're a goner. :(

This is what the robot palletizer looks like. Ours has a cage around it, because you don’t want to be ANYWHERE near it when it’s working; one hit and you’re a goner. 😦

The robot palletizer was another matter.  Bundled product coming into the final conveyor must be exactly in the same place every time, otherwise the bundles don’t get piled up correctly and the robot must be reset.  The robot palletizer is exactly what it sounds a metal arm that scoops up anything you want and depending on the pattern you program into it, piles up neat piles of bundles all night long.  The bundles can’t be too fat or too thin, the shrink-wrap plastic at just the right temperature so it won’t be too hard or too soft for the robot to pick it up neatly.

So as you can see, I had plenty of things to occupy me, and on pure adrenalin and healthy stress, I hardly even had the time to sit and have a cup of tea.  It was only my forklift guy and the engineer who reminded me to take the breaks before I realized it was the crack of dawn.

This went on for two more days, and the next week was a “regular” shift schedule of 10 hours, which I didn’t mind too much because I had the advantage of day shift.

Two weeks later, I realized how important the 24/7 shifts were when the supervisor sent me a thank you note (with the blessing of the site manager), and a $50 supermarket voucher.  Suddenly the cold and tedious nights of those shifts just became a distant memory.

Now, on to just another week of night shifts to finish…

Thanks for reading!

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hitting an early highlight w/Mahal & anakis 1st week of 2014


Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn't complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping.  Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

Post-lunch contentment with Mahal & anakis wasn’t complete without Bunso, who was working while we were sipping. Thanks BF of Ganda for shooting the pic!

NINETY MINUTES (at least) doing anything that’s not pure recreation, not pure rest or keeping close company with someone who isn’t your beloved, particularly on a non-working day, is hazardous to your mental health.  The only exception/s is/are (1) when it’s spent on a special day or holiday, on which thanksgiving and introspection is better spent in communion with other people, and (2) when (1) is spent with loved ones and/or family.

That is how Mahal and I convinced myself (Mahal needs to help me convince myself) despite previous postponements, to go all the way and spend a nice, all-extras-included New Year’s lunch with son Panganay and girlfriend (if any), daughter Ganda and boyfriend (if any), and younger son Bunso and partner (if any).

Which would’ve been great, had all of the aforementioned not had previous engagements, holiday shifts, basketball games, gym workouts and overtime work intervening.  In the end, we just settled on whoever was available for the Saturday post HNY lunch, which unfortunately didn’t include Panganay’s girlfriend (visiting a sick friend) and Bunso, who was at work.

Which didn’t bode well for Panganay and Ganda, who hadn’t exactly been on the same wavelength recently.  Panganay was having uncharacteristically the best of times with Bunso, who traditionally had always been on Ganda’s side, so Bunso would’ve smoothed any wrinkles between the two.

But it being a new beginning, and it being the first get-together for the year, we were all hoping for the best.

***                              ***                             ***

It turned out that we had nothing to fear.  Brother and sister both wanted to have a good time, and sister’s boyfriend, to be fair, wanted to get along with everybody.  The Beef Wellington and Heineken beer certainly didn’t hurt, although designated drivers could only drink a bottle at most.

We were all so happy that we didn’t mind Panganay bragging about his recent promotion, his anticipated work as an extra on Avatar 2 (to be filmed in NZ, largely expected as its producer had recently set up base in Wellington), and so much good luck that had come his way.  I figured, for him to appear (albeit as an extra) in a movie that had a good shot to be in the top 100 films of all time was as good as it got.  (Besides, to somehow balance it out, he also underwent a minor operation in 2013.) On New Year week, and with family around, we all had a right to feel happy with ourselves.

Ganda, after her migration seriously stalled her academics, had rounded up enough credentials and documents to get admitted to the nerdiest school in town, a bit out-of-character for her and therefore doubly impressive.  As if that weren’t enough, I couldn’t stop smiling with the news that her devoted (so far) Pinoy BF (yes, he’s Pinoy) not only approved of her going back to school but was actually going to help her with matriculation fees (??!!) New school, new boyfriend and new outlook in life, and I couldn’t help but be impressed with Ganda, who I thought was hapless enough to have inherited my happy-go-lucky attitude in life.  I couldn’t be more thrilled to be wrong.

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. :) Proud dad moment!

All ready for the next batch of caffeine addicts, Bunso can produce a mocha latte, a caramel latte, a frapuccino & a coffee of the day in less than 7 mins, which is what he did for us. 🙂 Proud dad moment!

***                              ***                            ***

We still hadn’t given up on Bunso, who while working was only a half-dozen blocks away in his barista job.  Instead of hoping he would join us for his lunch break, we decided to surprise him at  Istarbak, have our post-lunch coffee there and sample his wares.

I almost got teary-eyed watching him in the first job he loved (he worked a previous job but didn’t like it), conjuring coffee creations for urban addicts who were eager to sample first-hand the talented techniques of the rookie Istarbak brewer.  I was almost certainly biased, but it seemed to me that as the cafe queue grew longer, Bunso worked faster and more dexterously, never sacrificing quality for quantity.  Of course, this included our lattes, frappucino and coffee of the day.  Seeing Bunso work for the first time,  we were one proud dad and stepmom that afternoon.

Considering that I had already experienced what would probably be one of the highlights of 2014 on only the fourth day (and first Saturday!) of the year, it was a good day.

Thanks Mahal for convincing me to gamble on those 90 minutes.  Practically risk-free!

Thanks for reading!

my last shift with rasputin the racist


can you be offended and amused at the same time? :)

can you be offended and amused at the same time? 🙂

[ Note : in advance I’m telling you that it was an uneventful shift.  I’m just posting this (1) for posterity; (2) maybe some reader out there may want to know some of the less savory realities in my temporary adopted country, and finally (3) although i won’t see the subject of the blog soon, there’s still a slight chance he will return.  That’s very slight.  Thanks for reading! ]

BIG BUDDHA, the most senior of my bisors, disliked Rasputin because he could never back up his big talk with efficient work.  He could talk a big game, shock us with his redneck arrogance, or imagine he was the best shift boss around to his heart’s content, but if he was a crappy worker, Big B wouldn’t tolerate it for an instant.  And one look at him will tell you that his intolerance is one thing you wouldn’t want to ignore.

Genghis, the other, infinitely more taciturn among my bisors, neither likes nor dislikes him.  But he only manifested his feelings about him one time: when he mentioned that Rasputin seemed to be out of touch with reality in reference to the latter’s outrageous (and incorrect) way of doing things.

Then of course there’s SuperBisor our department supervisor, who more than once was on the receiving end of Rasputin’s arrogance.  The latter left little doubt of his opinion that he knew more about doing his job than SuperBisor did, listened to SuperBisor only when everything had gone to sh*t, and fancied himself an authority on everything in the workplace.  Each time, of course, he was spectacularly proven wrong by SuperBisor.

[by the by, the colorful names here are obviously aliases, but even if I used their real names, you wouldn’t know them anyway right?  So in the end it doesn’t matter, unless one of these people reads the blog. 🙂 ]

And moi?  I could legitimately use any of the above reasons in giving imagery to my professional (and otherwise) dislike of Rasputin, but I don’t need to.  Because first and foremost, what defines / defined Rasputin is his being a racist.

***               ***               ***

I don’t mean racist like the Ku Klux Klan or skinheads and Neo-Nazis wherever there is racial intolerance, but in so many words Rasputin behaves one way when he is with people with skin of his color, and behaves another way with all other skins.  One way to describe it, borrowing from SuperBisor, is that what he is begins with R and rhymes with acist.  So that was that, and I had no stronger reason with which to dislike him.

Not that he wasn’t easy to dislike anyway, as probably 99% of the staff disliked him.   Give or take a percent.

By the time he was getting into trouble, and even long before that, Rasputin had clearly been making an effort to stop being the R-Man (racist, as if you didn’t know), mainly because he was already getting into all sorts of jams, that the company had instituted a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, harassment, and yes, racism, and the non-whites in the workplace (meaning little old me) had been given instructions to notify anyone in authority the moment anything remotely resembling the R-Word (racism, just in case you missed it) occurred.

carrying a racist joke a bit too far, I'd say...

carrying a racist joke a bit too far, I’d say…

There.  You’ve probably formed a more-or-less vivid picture on how much Rasputin is loved and cherished, in his dreams, by all of us at work.  Still it didn’t stop him from doing things his usual haphazard and disorganized way, creating multiple and chain-reaction problems in the factory, until one problem became one problem too many, and he received a final warning hearing two weeks ago.

It was like the proverbial inch before the precipice: one slight push would seal his doom.  Anything, health and safety missteps, lates and tardiness on successive days, or another performance issue would send him over the edge, and that would be the end of Rasputin the Racist.

From my very first week more than five years ago, when Rasputin would talk to me several decibels louder than he would to anyone else at work; to his famous remark to me if people like you had half a brain you wouldn’t have your problems (at work), to as recently as a year ago when he asked me what is that effing sh*t  you’re eating, it’s making my eyes water, Rasputin minced no words about how he felt about “people like me.”  Because everyone else was giving him a hard time about it, I actually felt sorry for him.  But I never forgot his remarks, especially because it was so hard for him to change.

But by the time his final warning came along, he had already kept his R-remarks to himself.  I kept telling myself no matter how much I wanted to give him that slight push over the edge, no one deserved to lose his job.  Except that, amazingly, in his typical arrogant way,  he again disregarded stringent health-and-safety rules during a machinery lockout, and put himself and fellow workers in danger.  THAT wasn’t a slight push, it was a kick in the behind that Rasputin had given to himself, termination-wise.

In a poetic twist, and because he could only work on day shift when he could be supervised every half hour, I was also on day shift, and would therefore be his partner on what would in all probability be his final week at work.  There would of course be a meeting during which he would be presented with the evidence and given a chance to refute such evidence.  But in the face of overwhelming, documented and (previously) uncontested findings, challenging the decision to dismiss him would be nearly futile.

And so the person who fancied himself a future manager, leader and success story in the company would be working most likely his last week with a person he not-a-few-times disparaged and belittled, because he came from a demographic he understood little and appreciated even less.  But that was no reason for me not to give him a modicum of respect reserved for a colleague at work, who certainly deserved a final courtesy of cooperation and cordiality, seeing that he was my shift boss for a final eight hours.

This was why I resolved to make things as easy as possible for him, even though there would still be one more day to the work week.  The last day (Friday) usually being maintenance day,  today would be the last chance for him to perform regular tasks.  I would do anything within reason he requested, be as agreeable as possible, and even volunteer to help out if he needed it.

***               ***               ***

How I wish things turned out as ideally as projected.  In his typical pompous manner, a routine question I asked him unwittingly became an invitation to a seven minute lecture, as he insisted on telling me the procedure on things I already knew.  I was merely asking him as a courtesy and because, really, there wasn’t anything more to say.

Then at teatime, I sauntered into the tea room humming (a bit too loudly, I confess) a popular tune to myself.  Rasputin must’ve been annoyed, because out of the blue he sarcastically asked me Why do you always sing to yourself?

Because I didn’t expect it, I reacted brashly.  I answered Why do you always talk to yourself then?  (People had been telling me that since he had been given a warning, he had been seen talking to himself.)

Almost immediately I regretted saying it, and I didn’t even need to look at him to know that he was surprised.  In the five plus years I worked with him, it was probably the first time I “talked back” to him about something that didn’t involve work.  After my promise to myself to cut him a little slack, I was a little ashamed of myself.

After all that transpired between us the last few years, it was almost anti-climactic.  The way I saw it, we would, worse than being enemies, always remain strangers to each other, not bothering to resolve things and never striving to understand each other.

I say this because Rasputin called in sick the next day, and SuperBisor advised me not to expect him to return.  Unsurprisingly, he said that he would be amazed if anyone would miss Rasputin.

And that, kabayan and friends, was how I spent my last shift working with Rasputin the Racist, my almost-acquaintance and not-quite-friend.

And ex-workmate.

Thanks for reading!

repost courtesy of Bunso : “The Elusive First Job (in NZ)”


woohoo!

woohoo!

[Note : Actually, this was the second job my son Bunso successfully applied for, but this was the first time he actually liked the job. 🙂  So he was gracious enough to write about it after a local Pinoy newsmagazine in Wellington invited him to do so.  I liked it so much (his story) that I am reposting it below, with permission of course from both the publisher and the author.  You may access Bunso’s online version as well by clicking on the link in this paragraph.  Thanks again Didith Tayawa Figuracion and Meia Lopez of Kabayan Magazine in Wellington, and anak for your generosity! ]

KNOWING YOURSELF is one thing but describing yourself is another.  On finding a job, one of the most important things to remember is to put your best foot forward.  You have to present yourself as the best candidate for whatever job you’re applying for without sounding arrogant or too proud.

It took a while to get my first job but finally, after sending in numerous CVs (both physical and online), my efforts have paid off.  When I finally landed a job, I was ecstatic!  (I honestly can’t put my feelings into words.  But it was comparable to how I felt when I passed the entrance exam for the university I wanted to attend back home in the Philippines.  I felt really happy and blessed.)

So here’s my take on how you should prepare to get that (first) elusive job.

Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for.  Customise your CV and always point out skills and qualities you have that other people might not have.  Make sure to relate these to the job you are applying for.  Some jobs require you to be independent and some require you to be in a team.  If you like to do both, say so but don’t pretend to be somebody you’re not.

Your CV must speak for you especially for jobs you apply for online and situations where you won’t be able to see the prospective manager/boss before getting an interview.  Put together an image of yourself based on your personality (are you friendly and helpful?), experiences  (have you interacted with people from different ethniticities and backgrounds giving you that cross cultural perspective from your travels overseas or interactions in school?)  and skills (are you good with managing your time, multitasking or prioritising?).

Get the best referees possible.  Ask your high school (college) principal or your parents’ friends if they are willing to be your referees.  Get someone who knows you and is willing to help and can vouch for your professionalism.

Do your homework.  It helps a lot if you know the employer or have referees working within the workplace you are applying at.  Find out as much as you can about the company where you are applying.

During interviews make yourself very presentable.  From your clothes to your demeanor, you are being observed.  Wear clothes feel comfortable in and always appear open and approachable.  There is not one job in the world that would turn away people with those qualities, if there were they would probably be jobs most people wouldn’t apply for. (ha-ha just kidding.)

Now comes the hard part — asking for prior job experience when it’s your first job (locally).  Most jobs you apply for need prior experience but how can you get experience without getting a job?  I can only think of two ways to convince the employer to give you a chance.  Work for free for a specified amount of time depending on what you’re open to, for example one to two weeks, whatever floats your boat.  The other is to ask for an interview and character reference check and if they like what they hear then they might give you a shot.

So, when you do get the job, you better show them that they picked the right guy/gal.  Cheers and good luck to all the young people out there looking for employment, it definitely isn’t easy but it’s all worth it.

You go guys! 🙂

even for shortchanged migrants, NZ continues to improve work outcomes


[ This is probably the most scatterbrained post I’ve done, but I just wanted to put my thoughts onto paper soonest.  The news video above is dated, but the content is almost exactly about the problems addressed below.  Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading! ]

I’m simply awful in transferring pictures and other graphics to my YLBnoel site, so I’ll just enumerate a previous stat mentioned in a news feature program recently. In a study of cultural differences on how employees from different countries expect to be managed, the Philippines emerged near the top (of 100+ countries) of cultures that want to be told exactly what to do, with our workers scoring nearly 100.  The higher the score, the more the culture desires to be micromanaged, so to speak.

The funny thing is, at the bottom of the list, scoring nearly zero, or prefer to be left alone to do the job the way they do it, are guess what?  My hosts the Kiwis of course, whose individuality and inventiveness combine to make them the best employees to leave alone as soon as you tell them the job description.

Without even looking at the complete list I know that  co-leaders with Pinoys are other Asians like Koreans, Thais, Singaporeans, Taiwanese and of course, Chinese.  Because we are such a hierarchical society, we take word-for-word whatever instructions our bosses and supervisors give us, and prefer that we are given the complete set of steps on what to do, as opposed to other cultures that immediately conceive of a variety of ways to do the job.

Talking about other nationalities, it’s relatively easy for a Pinoy like me to pretend that we’re from other cultures just for the fun of it.  I think I’ve told you before that I started out in Wellington successfully pretending (for a month at least) to be a Vietnamese flatmate of Pinoys whenever friends visited, just to stop them from asking too many busybody questions.  In various times I’ve also been taken for a Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean and almost every other Southeast Asian national, which isn’t too surprising, since, I belong to both the Malay, and Chinese family of races and I’m fairly certain somewhere up in my family tree is a sly Spanish friar or lecherous Cantonese merchant.

Unfortunately, the various Asians that I look like and represent in my appearance and culture share something else with me besides appearance.  As mentioned above, we repose such high respect  in our bosses, supervisors and employers that we seldom if ever  question their decisions, orders and instructions, no matter how unsafe, dubious or illegal they may be.

Nearly every week in New Zealand media, you hear of migrants and work visa holders working for less, much less than the legislated minimum wage, working under shocking conditions, and occasionally being forced under threat of trouble with the authorities to work for no pay at all.

In keeping with its reputation as a labor- and migrant friendly country, New Zealand has expanded its migrant protection laws to sharpen penalties against migrant worker exploitation,  with punishments to include lengthy jail time, fines and possible deportation for employers who are themselves migrants, as reported in a recent article.

For example, if a potential employer knows that someone is in desperate need of a job, and the time on the latter’s work visa is running out, such job applicant has little choice but to accept a job offer, even if the wage rate is below the minimum required by law.

I admit that I’ve been in a position like this when I was unemployed, my work visa was running out and my scarce reserves were running low.   A dairy owner offered me NZ$7 an hour (below the floor rate of $12) for work that believe me, made me work for every cent.   Sadly, it was the knowledge of my desperation, and the fact that my employer couldn’t care less if he was paying me five dollars less than the legal rate that was the reason the situation and many others like it continue to exist in New Zealand today.

Completing the ignominy of many situations addressed by the new laws is the reality that migrants themselves take advantage of naive and newly arrived migrant workers who make the mistake of trusting one of their own.  Again, even in our own Pinoy community, we have an unscrupulous few who have taken money from our kabayan for shoddy service without batting an eyelash.

Longer jail terms, stiffer fines, and even deportation for migrant offenders are the sharper teeth of the new laws protecting exploited migrant workers.

Let me just say that the economic slowdown and continuing recession has not made our adopted country the ideal place to work overseas.  But it’s still a great place to work in, as long as I work hard,  and follow the conditions in my work visa.  Every effort is made by government to protect worker rights and migrant rights.  The least we can do is to use these laws to make the work experience here fruitful and worry free.

the day bunso came full circle


did our unanimous choice of chinese dimsum and yumcha really require explanation? :)

did our unanimous choice of chinese dimsum and yumcha really require explanation? 🙂

SEEING A person off on a journey into the vast unknown is one of the more popular metaphors lent to parents bidding goodbye to their adult children.  Part of you is so happy for them, being a front-seat witness to the first of their many milestones.  And yet you know that on many levels there is no turning back, as there are certain thresholds that, once crossed, can’t be uncrossed, can’t be undone.

Given his communication and learning skills, it had taken Bunso an inordinate time to find a job in Migrantland.  Each IQ test had given him so much encouragement, each interview had given him so much hope, and each hiring officer had practically promised him that the job was his for the taking.  Why, then was this his umpteenth job interview, and the latest in an endless stream of heartbreaking you have great qualifications, but just not a good fit for the position we’re offering right now?  It just seemed that they never ran out of ways to make you feel good and at the same time shut the proverbial door in your unbelieving face.

Which was why, after a month of not hearing from Bunso, we were very happy to hear that he had already started work after a short training period.  Just when he thought he had had enough of sincere-sounding but indecisive and non-committal employers, one supermarket chain finally cut him a break and told him to report for work the next day.

It was of course nothing fancy, minimum wage, work the graveyard shift that nobody wanted, fill the shelves and man the checkout counters at all hours of the day, don’t even think about choosing your hours.  For Bunso, just having a job was seventh heaven, and a passport to the life of being able to start saving for things meant a lot to him.

And the icing on the cake ?  Bunso remembered to treat us to dinner, which was a first for both me and him, meaning him treating me and me, well, being treated.  Free food certainly tastes better than usual, and even more when it’s from someone you’ve loved all your life.

From you taking care of the baby to the baby now taking care of you, Bunso has certainly come full circle, sniff-sniff! 🙂

From Tita H and me, thanks so much and love you always Bunso!

say hello to my little friend on night shift


"what do you mean you  dropped the spanner???"

“what do you mean you dropped the spanner???”

versatilebloggeraward11[ Note : please excuse the haphazard nature of the blog; I did it before short-term memory fades; you won’t see it every time, but thanks to school paper contemporary Fernando “Fer” Cao and his magnificent wide-angle picture of an idyllic beach, congrats to Fer and Meo Cao, brod Atty Andrei Bon Tagum and every proud parent for their kids’ passing the UPCAT, welcome to Diliman, and advance happy birthday to pinsan Mr Ricky Montenegro! woohoo ! ]

IT’S NOT really night shift, but it ends 11 pm, so that’s half the night gone anyway.  And the friend isn’t so little, almost as big as a small house,  but in relative terms, because there’s a larger, more complicated (and expensive) machine, he’s the small guy.

I’ve done a lateral move from one department to the other, and I’ve been entrusted to operate the newest packer on site, at least on the 3.00 to 11.00 shift.  It turns over between 50,400 bags (the smallest size) to 25,920 bags (the largest) over a 24-hour period, no ifs, buts or maybes about it, smooth as silk and with as little drama as possible.

That’s the equivalent of, depending on the product type, two-and-a-half or four truckloads of something that’s been packed by men and their muscles for as long as anyone can remember.  My participation in the exercise is as custodian and babysitter of one of the most advanced pieces of food manufacturing equipment, yehey for me!

Unfortunately, especially during the getting-to-know-you period, where we pretend we know everything there is to know about the machine but in fact don’t have the least clue as soon as red lights start flashing, potentially a dozen things can go wrong.  Out of the dozen, I’m prepared to deal with at most, two or three.

my little friend, or something that looks very much like it ;)

my little friend, or something that looks very much like it 😉

Glue applicator assembly out of position; tape handle applicator needs reloading (where you go through twenty spools in different directions); a few bags too light; a few bags too heavy; plastic bundler out of plastic, palletizer (which prepares the bundles for loading to truck) not palletizing properly, and these don’t include the foul-ups that the operator isn’t allowed to fix, those electronic, electric and engineering problems need a call-up to the plant engineer, which of course you don’t want to do on your first week alone on the shift, no matter how confident (or unconfident) you are.

Regardless of the nature and gravity of these problems, any one of the above enumeration is enough to delay production and set me back a few hundred bags, which sets back the expected number of pallets by the time my shift ends.

I don’t want to jinx my first few days on the machine, my supervisor has cut me a little slack as everything is new, everything is in the discovery and exploration stage.  Translation : I don’t want to get too ambitious, try anything too crazy, or do anything out of the ordinary.

It helps that the machine is user-friendly, as soon as something goes wrong the corresponding item on the menu lights up and tells you what’s going on, you just do what you’ve been taught.  But so many things can go wrong, and literally a moment of distraction can be disastrous.

And eventually something goes wrong : the oven that sort-of laminates the bundles for neat piling and arranging needs a top and bottom plastic roll that combine to wrap the bundles.  As little as a half-inch length of cellotape left on the top spool gets caught on the bottom roll just as the top roll empties, taking the bottom roll and wastes probably a quarter of the latter.  It takes me between 30 and 45 minutes just to unravel the wasted bottom roll, from the top spool.  So much for a stress-free first shift alone.

Combine this with the slow-downs and time spent replenishing the source silo, and I hardly make a dent on my quota that night.  Sigh.

I didn’t destroy anything on my first evening shift, but I came nowhere near expectations.  But you live and learn.

Thanks for reading!

the great divide


hard at work and happy to have a job

hard at work and happy to have a job

versatilebloggeraward11THERE’S A hazy line that divides the wage earners and peons at our workplace.  We do basically the same work, do the same shifts and bear the same responsibilities.  The difference is that some of us don’t enjoy benefits like health insurance, dealing with management as a single bargaining unit (provided we join the union, of course) and similar goodies.

In short, we have something that’s known back home as security of tenure; it’s not so easy to get rid of us even for good reason, while our colleagues across the breach can be told goodbye, see ya at a moment’s notice if the latter so much as comes late or picks his nose once too often.

Trouble is, these hardworking guys are aware of their status, not being born yesterday, and the senior guys know it as well, since they’ve seen everyone come and go.  They know they’re doing the work, they try to keep their nose clean and be good little boys, but nothing short of new policy straight from the top will grant them regular status.

employee of the month especially because he works for free, did you know that? :)

employee of the month especially because he works for free, did you know that? 🙂

Ever since the 2008 subprime mortgage bubble burst, affecting every civilized economy on this planet, growth has been flat or even negative for many industries, ours (food and manufacturing) no exception.  Expansion has therefore taken a back seat to survival and keeping our existing customers happy, and holding on to our modest market share.  Everything else, including new hiring, has gone below the radar, if you what I mean.  The translation for foot soldiers like me is thank your lucky stars you’ve got a job, and I thank God as well.

It’s hard to start a conversation with the temps, as they’re called, although some of them have been working with us for at least half a year now.  They’re chipper enough and full of energy whether at work or at teatime, but inevitably the talk, when you talk the talk, turns to how long they’ll stay here before they’re granted the same rights and privileges that the regular guys enjoy.  And when you think about it, how can you disagree with someone who only wants what everyone else is getting?

Not that it’s that black and white, comrade.  Each and every member of the worksite is aware of one of the last official hires, Vladimir (not his real name, of course) and the backstory.  He was full of initiative, ready for work every day and a quick study in all the tasks assigned to him.  He never backed away from extra shifts, did overtime when requested to, and not a word of complaint came out of his stoic mouth.

Lo and behold, a few months after he was regularized, he began missing Mondays and the day after payday, his sickies grating on his supervisors’ patience.  He also began keeping company with the more indifferent staff members who weren’t that concerned about work ethic.  Before long he had acquired a string of AWOLs, offenses in themselves if not for the slack cut him from understanding superiors.  It didn’t make much difference to him, because by then he had come to work only when he felt like it; was a good enough worker when he was available, but you can’t rely on a good worker unless he’s there every time, all the time.  And so as quickly as he was converted to regular worker from casual he was cut loose, and the company would think once, twice and thrice before hiring another.  Why would they, when the staffing agency was full of hopeful temps, and when someone they gave so much trust to burned them just like that?

I know what you’re thinking.  Why should someone suffer for another person’s previous shortcomings and all that?  Well, in the first place like I said unless there’s a very good reason, payroll positions  are to be put on hold, given the uncertain economic climate, and second, like I told you, once bitten, twice shy, thrice even.  Vladimir didn’t know it, but he didn’t do himself, and anyone after him, a lot of favors by letting all of us down.  Sigh.  But still, it’s an awkward situation, working, eating and trading stories with your mates, and knowing deep down that you’re not being treated equally.

The situation bodes special significance to me, because although I’m one of the lucky ones with regular status, my job is particularly important : unlike everyone else in the room, I’m on a work visa, which means my job is the reason I’ve been able to stay in the country.  A part of me is happy to stay here, but at the same time, I’m thinking : do any of my colleagues think I’m too lucky to be a guest worker, a regular status worker, and enjoy what they’re not enjoying?

And that’s why I’m lucky just to be working right here, right now.

Ganda learns and earns ( and takes us to dinner )


I DON’T remember ever using the word here, but there has to be something momentous about an offspring receiving his/her first paycheque, and treating you to breakfast/lunch/ dinner (and maybe a little dessert), it’s so disorienting, because part of you still sees the small, innocent child in the newest member of the workforce, and yet so gratifying, because you know that no matter what happens next, nothing can ever take you away from your moment of pride and achievement, even though the milestone is not yours but your son’s/daughter’s.

Ganda had spent lots of anxious moments looking for a job, nervous situations surviving those final interviews, and finally gained a foot in the door towards holding down a first-ever job in NZ, and in all the time she never wavered in her resolve that, barely seconds after getting off the boat (figuratively) she could become a vital cog in the convalescing NZ engine of growth.

Notwithstanding, it was as a footsoldier in the hamburger-and-fries battalions of the fast food armies of which every member of society, First World, Second or Third, could be a stalwart.  But because there were precious few jobs whose prospective applicants might multiplied by a factor of one hundred (i.e., three openings vied for by a potential 300 candidates), that priority in NZ  was given to Kiwis and Maoris as a matter of political correctness, and lastly that Ganda’s credentials were limited to internships and on-the-job traineeships back home, actually landing a job so soon after getting here would be a challenge.

And true enough, the shortlists and breaks handed to our intrepid jobseeker were few and far between.  Despite the fact that barkada, well-meaning friends and two sets of parents had already advised her that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, Ganda’s initial attempts at snaring a job were bound to end in disappointment.  CV’s, applications and walk-in interviews were easy to hand out, fill in and conduct, but the reality was, for Ganda to expect anything out of these daily endeavors was shooting for the moon.

It was therefore going to be a ritual of handing out your bio-data in the hundreds, pounding the pavement and zooming in on anything that resembled a job referral in the adventure of finding a job.

a previous dinner with Panganay, Ganda and Bunso. This time dinner was on esposa hermosa 😉

That she actually found a job within a month from obtaining her permanent resident status was a pleasant surprise for all of us, her circle of friends, and not the least Ganda herself.  Granted it wasn’t in the rarefied executive offices of Wellington CBD, but she wasn’t dreaming.  Better-paying and more career-oriented jobs would be there, but for now getting her feet wet and filling out her resume’ (experience-wise) was the most important thing.

We wanted to grant her wish of treating us to lunch last weekend, but at the same time we didn’t want her to splurge too much so soon after starting her new job.  A compromise was reached : she would choose any place (that wasn’t too similar to her fast food employer) and we would shoulder half the bill.

Considering that it was a marvelous grilled chicken dinner, that we hadn’t seen Ganda (and sidekick Bunso ) since they started looking for jobs (for weeks and weeks), and the conversation and bonding were outstandingly feel-good, it was hands-down a world-class way to celebrate entering the workforce.

For one sweet meal it was a reversal of roles, the providee becoming the provider, and the younger generation embracing the role of host.  It was also a very unsubtle way of reminding us that after a certain point in life, time begins to fly, and pass you by if you don’t hold on like your life depended on it.

Congrats Ganda, and thanks everyone for reading!

groundhog day for your OFW kabayan


they had time to pose for a team-building pic. Thanks and acknowledgment to taapworld.wikispaces.com!

Oh, dear.  I promised esposa hermosa I would finish it today, bundle it up and throw it into the dropbox at Immigration NZ tomorrow.  But it’s taking all of my energy to just sort the documents today.

I shouldn’t have too much problems with this, as I’ve been doing it, not counting the first time when I was a new hire, three times previous, applying for a work permit, now called a work visa, as a guest worker in the Land of the Long White Cloud, or New Zealand.

Unlike many of my kabayan (countrymen) who’ve gotten here under the Work-to-Residence policy stream, my right to work depends largely on whether the visa officer thinks there aren’t enough locals who can do the job and fill the position I currently occupy.  Failing that simple test, my status as a work visa-holder ceases to exist and I go home.

It’s as simple as that, every year.  Most years the case officer just follows the script, respects that procedure has been properly followed and ticks all the boxes in my favor.  Every now and then though, there is someone who is even more than a stickler for the letter of the law, who thinks that New Zealanders enjoy the first, second and last priority for jobs all and sundry, and that as it is, there are already too many migrant workers in Enzed (NZ).

this theoretical visa / case officer is correct on all counts, except for the following: the basic law sometimes bows to the reality that there is no one currently qualified to perform the work for which the permit/visa is being applied for; that the jobs are there for Kiwis and Maoris to take, but what if they’re not interested in particular jobs? and three, it is true that there seem to be a tad more foreign workers, maybe too much for comfort for the previous generation of New Zealanders, but if you take away all of us, who’ll be left to work?

Regardless of the wisdom of the strict officers, and how politically correct it is to allow migrant workers in a country that has unemployment problems up to here (point to neck), I’m just happy to avoid the above kind of bureaucrat, and to keep my nose clean and my application airtight.

By airtight I mean all documents updated, that I’ve done my part to improve my training and education, and that I enjoy the support and endorsement of my employer, which incidentally, I’ve done and I do.

I’ve kept on file my employment contract, which contains all the bells and whistles (anti-harrassment, opportunities for advancement, legal terms of work, etc etc) but also all the bail-out clauses in case the employer doesn’t like me anymore.  It’s pretty dated, because it’s deemed renewed if no one objects to it, and since I’ve signed it 2008 it’s been good as gold

I’ve passed at least one training module every year that consists of a written exam and optional quizzes spread throughout a five-month period, supported by the worldwide guild with branches in Australia and Europe, and I only need two more to be certifed in my trade.  I’ve kept copies of my passing certificates for the officer’s scrutiny.

Back home, I remembered to update my National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) clearance to prove my nose has been clean all of my adult life, or at least proves I’ve never been caught  😉

Experience has taught me to keep copies of unanswered job ads for my position in publications to show the case officer that no one is qualified, or even interested in my job.  It helps him/her a whole lot in deciding in my favor, in short to issue me a new work visa.

Once, my previous boss even went so far as to advertise in Work and Income NZ, a job placement agency staffed by the national government, for eight straight weeks just to show that the physical and technical aspects of the job attracted very few local applicants.  That year it was enough to clinch my precious work visa.

All the above, plus the crucial written endorsement from The Man that I’ve been a good little boy and that it would cost them more to lose me and train someone from scratch, I’m to compile, complete all the applications, and not the least, add the application fee, zip to the office in Wellington City, and dump the package onto their dropbox

I hope to be as lucky and blessed as I’ve been the last four years.

Thanks for reading !