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.

**********          **********          **********

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!

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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.

**********          **********          **********

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”

 

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.

*****     *****     *****

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!

the hardest adjustment for a migrant


[ Host Wellington and the Wellington Pinoy community welcome all kabayan participants and competitors of the Pistang Pilipino 2016 sa Wellington,  kudos to the organizers, officials, marshals and other volunteer staff.  Mabuhay kayong lahat! ]

NOPE, IT’S not communication or language.  Most Pinoys (an endearment Filipinos call themselves) treat English almost as a first language, having been taught the King’s English from nearly the very start of their lives.  In fact, I remember in Pinoy Mass (once a month, celebrated by a Filipino priest), the priest delivered his homily in (of course) perfect English, for the benefit of the non-Pinoy parishioners who insisted on attending Mass with kabayan.  After 10 minutes of a short discussion of the Sunday Gospel, he said, I now respectfully continue the sermon in Taglish, which everyone was expecting.  In both versions, Father Kabayan was outstanding (and uplifting), and considerate of  both English and Tagalog speakers.  So, adjustment to our host’s language is no biggie.

A little more complicated is the way people travel, both on the road and on the footpath (sidewalk or walkway ang tawag natin).  The New Zealand Road Code tells motorists to travel on the left side of the road, so when you cross the street (usually a two-way street), you look to the right first, then to the left when you’re in the middle of street.  It took me a while before i got used to that, and got me quite a lot of honks and four-letter words from drivers who never get used to Asian pedestrians like me.  It got a little worse when I started learning to drive, because I frequently reverted to the mindset of driving on the right side of the road, not very safe and definitely taking a little more adjustment than walking.  Still, as long as you keep focused on your walking / driving, and remember that you’re in New Zealand, not the Philippines, you should be OK.

And then there’s the work culture or culture of interaction, I can’t go any broader than that for fear of using too much space.  Kiwis or New Zealanders generally speak their mind, but are aware of the need to save face at all times, especially for Asians.  So they temper the sharpness of their tongues with subtle digs and lighthearted witticisms, sometimes using good-natured sarcasm, in short, very Pinoy, when you think of our sawikain (literary expression), salawikain (proverbs), parinig (hints) and other figures of speech that dull the kaanghangan (spicyness) of our criticisms.  Definitely, there are more similarities than differences when you compare social intercourse /s of Pinoys and Kiwis.  The key words are civility, pakisama (attitude of “getting along” with each other) and the golden rule (do unto others what you’d want them to do unto you).

Even better, as long as you let your work and your work attitude talk the talk and walk the walk, you can’t go wrong.  Kiwis may find you strange, different and awkward, but if you do your work right, work within the team concept and go the extra mile, you speak their language, and speak the universal language, the language of hard work spoken anywhere.

*****          *****          *****          *****          *****

No, the biggest adjustment you have to make is accepting the realization that the next time you go back to the Philippines, it’s no longer to return to your home base but as an excursion to a place you used to live in, to visit friends, loved ones and family, only as an interruption of your regular life… as a migrant.

The biggest and most lifechanging adjustment you make is a shifting of allegiance from the country of your birth to the country of your future, to the country you will soon (if not already) call home.  Loyalty is on unstable, shifting ground, no more so than for the migrant.

You will never lose gratitude for the country that gave you existence, blood and identity, but your migrant life changes everyday, and your migrant life waits for no one.  Least of all, old memories and old attachments.

You can always go home, back to the Philippines, but with different eyes, different attitudes, and different perspectives.  That is as hard as any adjustment  you can make.

In a very real sense, you can never go home again.

Thanks and mabuhay everyone for reading!

 

 

what new zealanders REALLY think of us pinoys


productsfromnz

[thanks and acknowledgment for the pic to productsfromnz.com! ]

SHAY MITCHELL of the world-famous TV hit Pretty Little Liars said it best, even if it was a little rude : when the half-Pinay was asked if her mom was a yaya (nanny or babysitter), she was reported by Cosmopolitan to have answered no eff-er, but even if she was, so what?  Do you know how hard it is to be one?  Being yayas, nurses and construction workers is just one of the multi-faceted dimensions of being a Filipino, and we do other things as well. But people all over the world have preconceived notions of us Pinoys, and it’s up to us to disabuse them of those notions.

As usual, I don’t claim to be an expert in what non-Pinoys think of us, but I DO have an advantage in that I’ve been living in New Zealand albeit as  a guest worker, and I do have encounters and interactions with New Zealanders regularly, but admittedly not as much as I’d like (I usually work in two-man shifts every other week).  Here is a short list of some of the things Kiwis observe about us, but of course the list is not exhaustive:

Pinoys are team players in the game of nation building and just want to do their bit while raising families and developing careers.  Sometime in the 1990s, New Zealand decided to meet the (then) labor deficiency challenge head-on and opened their doors to migration.  The result has been mixed, but Pinoy migrants have made New Zealand decision-makers look like geniuses.  Pinoys are productive members of the workforce, are not generally known to be troublemakers or criminal offenders, and you will hardly see any Pinoys unemployed or on the (employment or sickness) benefit.

These will be supported by statistics, but on personal experience, I can confidently tell you that no  Pinoy wants to be seen as idle by choice.  There’s always work to be had in New Zealand, as long as you’re not choosy.  And it’s part of the migrant way of thinking that, because you’ve been granted the privilege of living in a country, you do your part by pulling your weight, even if it’s doing jobs you don’t particularly fancy.  This way, you participate in the economy, at the very least pay taxes that run the engine of government, and don’t become a burden to your hosts.  Just common courtesy, actually.

Someone very close to me (please don’t ask me to identify him/her, as doing so would jeopardize my life 🙂 ) had just become a permanent resident a few years ago but had had a particularly difficult time finding a job that matched his/her skills.  When I half-joked that at the very least, being on the dole (unemployment benefit) would be an option, he/she indignantly retorted, I didn’t come to New Zealand to be an unemployment beneficiary or words to that effect.  I then realized, belatedly, that such an option, option though it was, would be unthinkable for me as well.

Among a diverse group of migrant workers, Pinoy workers respond best to specific instructions and orders rather than a general set of goals.  I’m not entirely sure why this is so, just guessing that Pinoys prefer as little room as possible for doubt in executing tasks and plans especially when in an environment they’re not used to.

But probably the better reason Pinoys do better under detailed directions, and so have the tendency, over other migrant nationalities, to ask for such level of detail, is the fact that most Pinoys as OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) speak fluent English, almost as a first language (after of course the native  Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilokano or other dialects ).  Having heard and spoken English most of their lives, they are eager to show their Kiwi employers the relative ease in assimilating into and adapting to their new work environment, compared to other, non-English speaking races.

And finally…

Kiwis think Pinoys try hard to get along with everyone not only to be part of the team but to be likable by everyone.  This is, not just easily explainable but also understandable not only if you’re a Pinoy but also if you’ve worked with anyone Pinoy, half-Pinoy or married to one.  It’s part of Pinoys to work as part of a team, and consider all members of the work team (weeeeeell, anyone who WANTS to be part of the team) to be part of the family.

It’s second nature for a Pinoy to look out for each other in the work team, to fill in or help out if someone needs a hand, so to speak.  It’s natural for Pinoys to consider the office, workplace or factory as like a second home, where the inhabitants are totally comfortable and treat all the co-inhabitants as family members.

The downside to this is that, if Pinoys can’t convince themselves to like certain members of the workplace, they believe that they can’t work well with the same unlikable workmates as well.  Which is also probably why, on the assumption that liking Pinoys will foster mutual likability, Pinoys try quite hard to make themselves liked at the workplace.

Do you agree?  These are based on specific experiences, quotes and anecdotes learned and earned here and there, so the above are highly subjective and easily proven (or disproven).  But if it can contribute,  even just a bit, to a better understanding of the lives Pinoy migrants have led in New Zealand, then it would have been worth it.  Just sayin’.

Mabuhay and thanks for reading!

 

perchance & happenstance: daig minsan ng swerte ang maagap at masipag


backgammon-precision-dice-saffron_primary

[  Wish there was a happy ending to this story.  I still continue to fight the good fight, solider on, and live every day as if it were my last.  But in the game of life, don’t we all?  ]

SHOW ME an overseas Pinoy worker (OFW), and I’ll show you a migrant-in-waiting.  Behind every successful migrant was once an aspiring OFW willing to try his luck anywhere he (or she) is wanted.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s much easier to migrate when you condition yourself to be an OFW first.  A host nation is much more welcoming to potential migrants who look for work first before attempting to become one of its citizens.  But one needs to be hyperalert, hypersensitive and hyperaware of all opportunities that lead to the OFW’s ultimate goal, which is to work in an ideal situation abroad…

…or, you could be lucky, and just be at the right place at the right time.

THE FIRST LUCKY BREAK.  It all started with a generous aunt, who brought a different set of nephews and nieces each time she went on a vacation overseas.  That particular year I was lucky enough to be taken along, and because she had a nephew there (my brother), she chose to visit New Zealand.

After we had seen the sights and enjoyed our reunions with relatives, my brother asked me, if ever he gave me the initial assistance (board & lodging, initial paperwork, etc), I would fancy finding work in New Zealand.  It wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.  But then, given that I didn’t exactly have the awesomest job back home, what did I have to lose?

*****          *****          *****

Inside and out, I don’t come across as a typical OFW.  I don’t have the marketable skills in the medical, construction and technology industries that are so desirable all over the world.  I’ve never been tech-savvy, I’ve got little to no aptitude in health care, and I definitely don’t possess the particular strength and skill that serves well in housebuilding occupations.

No coincidence, these are among the skills prioritized under the umbrella  Skilled Migrant pathway, on the premise that jobs that fuel the economy can’t be filled by locals alone and the backlog must be picked up by migrant labor.  These skills are listed, unsurprisingly, on what’s called a Long-Term and Short Term Skills Shortage List.

Nope, I didn’t have any of the skills on either list.  And that’s where my second lucky break came…

*****          *****          *****

THE SECOND.  Almost a year after my first work visa was issued, my luck was running out.  The company that hired me under that visa went out of business, and the position that I was hired for (something that I barely qualified for) no longer existed, so I of course had no more job.  I was back to square one, in fact one step backwards, because like I said above, I had already abandoned my last job in the Philippines (not that it was any great loss) and had already used up a lot of favors getting my first visa.

At the last moment, barely weeks before my only option would be returning home, one of my brothers acquaintances from church gave me a referral to an employment lead.

With the slimmest of hopes I snagged an interview with the site manager.  I would be trained from the ground up, with minimum wage but on a case-to-case basis (not based on general work visa policy), I had a chance at a visa.  Biting the bullet and kapit sa patalim, I took a leap of faith, and cursed the darkness…  (any more dramatic idioms, kabayan?)

*****           *****          *****

That was 2008, nearly eight years ago.  The good news is, I’m still here in New Zealand.  The bad ?  Well, there is no bad news.  Only a slight disappointment, in the sense that I’m still on a work visa.  But given all that I’ve been through, I’ve been very lucky.

I’ve trained as hard as I can in all aspects of my work, so that (surprise!) I’m now a qualified tradesman in my line of work.  But because it’s such a specific specialty, unless I go out of the country (again), my employment prospects are quite limited.

Oh yes, it’s true that I’ve been at the right place at the right time, picked my spots and played my cards right.  (What if my aunt brought another nephew or niece with her the year she vacationed in New Zealand?  What if I was introduced to my brother’s friend a week or two before or after the job opening surfaced?  And so on and so forth.)

But I also persevered, perhaps more than I thought I would.  Many, many times I thought I would give up.  A quarter of my job involves manual labor, another one-fourth  a little discipline,  plus a little pakisama. That adds another quarter.  Most of the time, it’s just showing up, and showing up on time.

It would sound arrogant if I didn’t admit that I’ve been blessed to find work as an unskilled tourist coming from the Philippines, to First World New Zealand.  But I would be less than candid if I didn’t say that sipag at tyaga has played a major part.

Diba, sometimes they mean the same thing?  Luck and good fortune.  Sipag at tyaga.  Sometimes we make our own luck.

Thanks for reading kabayan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

off morning shift till further notice


grumpy cat

[ Paunawa : Pasensya na to anyone I haven’t kept in touch with, I think in light of recent events (please see below), it’s more or less self-explanatory, hehehe, just my way of getting you to read further.  It’s been a glorious last few weeks here in Wellington NZ, thank God for a beautiful summer after an awesome January back home in the Philippines! ]

YOU AND I Precious Reader have, oftener than not, read enough internet articles, findings and correlations not to know that sleeping regular hours at the right time, meaning at nighttime, is part of healthy living.

You can burn the midnight oil for a time, turn your body clock inside out for a while, and sleep and wake like a vampire for only so long, but it’s not good for you.

There are many reasons for this, part of which is the hundred-thousand-year-old circadian rhythm that homo sapiens sapiens has established as part of normal living. There’s also the very basic bodily need for ultra-violet rays from sunshine, and then maybe not as essentially the rest that is best taken in darkness.

But there are exceptions.  People working in call centers (or business process outsourcing centers) get used to working in the dead of night and sleeping in brightest day.  Security guards are wide awake with the kuliglig and paniki and take breakfast at twilight.  And so on and so forth.  But if you’re like me, and I’m guessing you are, you start best at the crack of dawn and say beddy-bye just before the clock strikes twelve.

The (un)happy compromise is to work twilight shift.  You start later than most people, in fact when most people are already starting to leave work, and log out when some people are already snoring.  But this is better than working the graveyard shift, when there’s nobody awake except you and you try to sleep when the sun is scorching behind the drapes and curtains.

*****     *****     *****

I’ve always been a team player at work, especially since because of my migrant status locals and residents (if any are available) may potentially be given preference in job selection.   But rotating shifts (nights, mornings and twilight shifts before returning to nights, mornings, etc) has always been part of the deal, using the philosophy that everyone gets their turn at the dreaded night shift.

Unfortunately, one of the persons in our three-man rotation (the factory we operate needs to run 24 hours 5 days a week) is also our team leader, who needs extra training for planning our production schedules for the week, using the SAP software that no management team seems to be able to survive without, and other earth-shaking, indispensable management stuff.  Because the training can only be conducted during regular office hours, by default Your Loyal Kabayan and the other guy (by coincidence, also a migrant, albeit a former one) have drawn the short straws.  Between the two of us, we share the honor of doing twilight and night shifts for the next few months, or until our team leader finishes his team leader training, whichever comes last. 😦

Weytaminit, kapeng mainit.  Whatever happened to rotating shifts, the right to a morning shift every third week, and the company’s concern for too many night shifts not good for the health?  Well, in the name of production, keeping the conveyor (as in product conveyor) running, and keeping the customer happy, some things have to be sacrificed and fall by the wayside.  For the time being.  In the hierarchy of priorities, starting from the client’s requirements, to the employer’s requirements, to the worker’s requirements, which do you think are the easiest to compromise?

*****     *****     *****

So that’s the way it’s gonna be.  Never mind that I don’t get to watch prime time for a while (I’ll be sleeping till a half-hour before going to work).  Never mind that I won’t have time to do the nasty with Mahal for a while (I’ll either be too tired or too hyper to do so).  And never mind that I’ll have zero social life for a while (not that I’ve had much of  a social life).  When you’re on the bottom of the totem pole, especially when you’re a migrant, you don’t have much of a say on what you do, or how you do it.  For now, just be lucky you’re working where you’re working, that you’re working at all, and that, shift hours aside, you’re able to cope with the daily pressures and stresses.

For now.

Thanks for reading!

the final shift before Christmas


china-factory-jpg

“in lieu of the usual 5-minute nap breaks, for December we have better coffee and more potent tea for you hardworking employees!  don’t forget the higher production targets this month, the kids can’t be disappointed!”

[The other titles that made it before final print were : Work, the migrant and the silly season and Noel Learns and Earns.  But this one won out in the end.  A blessed Christmas to all! ]

I FINISHED  my last shift 3.00 am Christmas Eve.  What I thought would be an easy coast to the finish line became an eight-hour ordeal, imposing the burden of my mistake on my colleagues, and finished only by the grace of God.  The only silver lining here was that I gained yet another hard-earned lesson, actually THREE lessons in the School of  Hard-knocks (or pasaway, in current Pinoy idiom).

*****     *****     *****

It started when I saw the rosters posted for the week ending on Christmas Eve.  For a change, I was to work night shift, my first as a shift supervisor.  Such a term is actually a glorified way of saying you’re the senior between yourself and your shift partner, the only other person in the building.  And that if any sh*t happens during your shift, that’s right, it’s all on YOU.  For that, and an extra dollar an hour, you get to be called shift supervisor.

I should be one to complain.  I had been trained to be shift supervisor because there was no one else who was willing and able to be trained, because no one else was available, and because quite frankly, no one else was willing to do shift work.

*****      *****     *****

And besides, the job was one of the things keeping me in this country, which for the last seven years had been good to me and wife Mahal.  So what if every third week I worked night shift?  It was a job for mine to take, no one else wanted it as badly as I did, and there wasn’t much for me to do if the job didn’t exist.

The problem was, I didn’t have the confidence to do night shift, because night shift essentially meant running the entire factory alone, without the team leader holding your hand for troubleshooting, no plant engineers to fix spouts, conveyors and airlines in a jiffy, and nobody else (except your shift assistant) to help you.  Turning out 4 tons of product from 6 tons of raw material every hour, processing them through two dozen pieces of machinery, monitoring the same as well as the final product through a tedious sked of tests and checks, was something I’d never done at night, but the team leader told me in so many words, if I wasn’t ready now, I’d never be ready.

The only way to motivate myself was, telling myself Noel, this is what you’ve been trained for.  Physically, mentally and emotionally, you CAN’T be more ready.  So that’s how I started Sunday night.

*****     *****     *****

Except that things actually turned out peaches and cream.  The machines, old as they were, behaved like good little schoolkids and did what they were asked.  The product didn’t turn out awry and was up to spec.  And I had a great time.

Until Wednesday night.

*****     *****     *****

Ironically, it started with a teeny-tiny mistake concerning a procedure that I’d done dozens of times before without a hitch.  It involved shutting down an airseal / airlock a few seconds between changing product silos.  On. And off.  And on again.  That’s it.

Because it was already my last shift of the week, and because the first two hours went by swimmingly, my mind shifted into cruise control, and literally entered holiday mode.  The slight inconvenience of changing silos barely crossed my mind, and I was already thinking of the next steps after temporarily switching off  said airseal / airlock.

Except that I didn’t turn said machine on again.  That was when all hell broke loose.

*****     *****     *****

First, the product weigher through which all the final product passed through overflowed.  Despite the glaring mess, I missed THAT as a sign of  a bigger mess, which was the control sifter upstairs that was also overflowing.  Finally, one of the main airways through which the final product flowed before entering the main conveyor backed up and choked, forcing me into the last resort of shutting down the entire system altogether.

All in all, it took us at least an hour to clear around 50 bags of product, call the plant engineer (on call) and rouse him from sleep (twice) to clear the airways;  for my partner and me to clean up the rolls that treated the raw material so that they would start properly, and do general housecleaning to get rid of the mess I created.

*****     *****     *****

Through this, I expected my assistant, a 68-year old Samoan migrant who’d been in New Zealand the last 30 years, to at least frown, be sarcastic or complain about making his life miserable on our last shift before Christmas.

But he never said a word, despite the fact that we put in work the equivalent of the last few days put together.  I was beside myself with embarrassment, but the work had to be done.

*****     *****     *****

The lessons I told you that I learned?

First, that every work day, from the start of the week to the end of Friday, should be treated the same.  The level of energy, focus and intensity should be consistent and unwavering.  Otherwise, you’ll get lost in your own daydreams and get into trouble.

Second?  I hate to admit it, but in holiday mode, I was losing sight of the most important thing in my life after love and family, and that of course was/is my job.  It feeds me, shelters me, clothes me, keeps me warm, and allows me to stay in my host country.  What could be more important to me now?

So what if it was the week before Christmas?  Many others were also working the same sked, and it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet, which of course was a holiday naman.  In fact, many people in certain industries would be working through the holidays, knowing fully well it’s the nature of the job.

I’d be denying reality if I denied that many people in New Zealand, and even more in the Philippines, would give an arm and a leg (figuratively) to be in my shoes.  Someone quite close to me is in an industry that pays him more than double anything I could ever earn here, and yet he is jobless.  During the holidays.  That’s quite hard.  And makes me more appreciative of my work.

*****     *****     *****

And last?  It concerns my Samoan co-worker, in the last couple of years before he retires (actually he’s past retirement age), but still doing his bit to help the team.  I expected him to be short-tempered, resentful, or even walk out of the situation I created.  But seeing his mature, resilient and even cheerful disposition, I realized that not even his “seniorness”, his slowed-down body, and the adverse nature of night shift could change his basic nature:  after more than three decades, he was still mightily grateful that New Zealand had given him a chance to better his life, undoubtedly allowing him to make lives better for his extended family in Samoa (very much like the Philippines).

In case it isn’t that obvious, the lesson here, for me, is never lose sight of the big picture, and always be grateful.  (The sidelight is, don’t sweat the details.)

*****     *****     *****

After things got to normal, I hugged Joshua (not his real name) spontaneously, and uttered one of the few phrases I knew  in Samoan : Faa fetai Joshua, thank you for being there for me.  For us.  Joshua just smiled his stoic, Samoan smile.

A lot of lessons for the last shift before Christmas.

Thanks for reading Precious Reader,spare a thought for those working through the holidays, and stay safe this Christmas!

 

 

 

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!

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!