thoughts on the last working day of the year


Businessman Sitting Top Cliff Rock Mountain

[ Note : Sorry if we haven’t been getting together too often Precious Reader.  But beyond my quit-smoking post on Nov most years, this is the blog that I try not to forget, the count-your-blessings post.  Thanks 123RF.com for the pic, and thanks everyone for reading! ]

WE ALWAYS work in pairs, but halfway in, my shift partner had to go home early.  So I finished my last 2016 shift alone, although there were packers on the other end of the work site.

Surprise, surprise, everything worked out well just there and then.  Everything clicked, and product was churned out ton after ton, like it was the most natural thing in the world.  More important, it went straight to packing, nothing saved, nothing wasted, probably straight into a waiting truck into bakeries, restos and supermarkets.  It was THAT urgent.

Of course there was the shift partner (gone hours ago) who helped me set up the machines and raw material, the veteran who warned me of specific issues and situations to avoid, and of course the packers who checked in on me in the production area every now and then, but in the end, after half a shift of working alone, I turned out 31 tons of product.  Working on my own.

It was then when I felt, for all the trouble, training, dramas, stresses and sore legs, arms and unending fatigue, that I liked my job.  In fact, I liked my situation, and in sum, I liked my life.

I’m not being boastful, exemplary or trying to make this a teachable moment.  One person’s survival is another person’s perfect situation.  Perfect situation being :  you have a decent job, you have a little money saved in the bank, you are in reasonably good health, and you live in a country that respects human life, liberty and property.  Not a bad-looking list, especially using the eyes of someone in Africa (almost anywhere in Africa), or someone in the Middle East (almost anyone or anywhere in the Middle East) or someone in Syria (anyone, anywhere in Syria.  Except for that guy making it miserable for everyone else).

Decent Job.  It’s not a dream job, but I get paid better than minimum wage.  In New Zealand, that means you have money for the basics, and a little left over.  The job involves a little physical labor, and moving about, but so what?  It keeps me fit, and being fit at my age is a definite bonus.  To work my job, I need to be fit, and working allows me to continue being fit.  So it’s a gift that keeps giving.

Money saved.  This is where it gets tricky.  While the going is good, money coming in, and the sun is shining, you just don’t see the urgent need to save and put aside blessings now for blessings in the future.  BUT, believe me when I say this, this is important, you won’t be earning the same amount of money all the time, and all through life, your earnings may or may not go up, but your needs will never go down.

Just to be able to save a little money, by choice, is a pure luxury for me.  And that’s what I’m doing now.  A bit late, but better than never.

Good health.  This is my ace in my sleeve.  My last physical, said my doc who felt me in places too awkward to mention in a general patronage blog, said I was, for my age, job and stress levels, in very good health.  Meaning, my numbers were good, tests looked good, and the remainder of my life, against all odds, looked promising.

Promisingly good.

Let’s all count our blessings, happy new 2017, and Mabuhay!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

why walking (& even running) is better than standing for this middle-aged OFW


lower-back-pain-2

thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to spinecarechiropractic.com.au!

[ Prayers and concern for our brother and sister kabayan in Davao City and environs. ]

THE FIRST TIME i felt the pain was when I was carrying a moderately heavy load, a half-bag (sack or supot) of product, between 5-10 kg I think.

Aray, ouch, not a sharp twinge of traumatic impact pain but rather a dull bag! of discomfort, more like a heavy knock between my upper thigh and buttocks, classically where sciatic nerve pain occurs.  The pain wasn’t remarkable enough for me to cry out and complain the usual way I do (I’m a neurotic complainer), but it was enough for me to stop and take stock of the situation.

Now, that’s different.  I don’t remember anything like it before, although I’m used to fatigue, bumps and bruises and other pains associated with specific events.  This one happened out of nowhere, although at the time I had been performing a manual task.

The pain lessened somewhat after a break, one I took every two hours on this longish 12-hour night shift. (I’m assuming it was on nights because I do a night shift every other week now).  But as soon as I resumed regular work and chores, the nagging pain returned.

*****

The irony was (is), as long as I walked or even ran (except for the first few minutes, I always suffer a little stiffness coming from sitting or prone positions), I was fine.  The pain, which now alternated between dull throbs in my upper thigh-buttock area (left leg only) and pinpricks on the lower thighs to upper legs, was most prominent when I was stationary, a position I now logically avoided at all costs.

But as we workers, Pinoy,  OFW or otherwise, all know, work involves a thousand and one positions of the standing, sitting and mobile human body.  We are forever finding new combinations of  bodily activity to adjust to our multi-tasking, enhanced-activity, productivity-greedy jobs.  We stretch, crouch, squat, half-sit, half-stand, kneel, crawl all the time, every hour of the day, without a second thought.

All of which is murder, one killing blow at a time, to our lower backs.

*****

I can’t blame anyone for my suspected sciatica (suspected cuz it hasn’t been confirmed, but the signs are pretty clear).  All my life, I’ve been abusing my body beyond reason, beyond repair.  I remember staying awake 48 hours, smoking used butt of cigarets, and drinking alcohol well beyond my limits.  But this was during my failed experiment with youth.  The rest of my working life, my abuse has mostly been walking too much, standing too long, and spending too many days (nights) on physically exhausting extended shifts.  My body is only responding to the wear-and-tear I’ve exposed it to.

I can still work normally, but I need to take regular breaks now, apply warm compresses to my back on those freezing Wellington nights, and use my days off for quality breaks.  As any middle-aged person in his/her right mind should be doing.

The most important things I can do now regarding my pinched-nerve situation are specific stretching exercises that seem to relieve the pain and tightness in the area, rest whenever I can, and STAYING AWAY from the stationary, standing position.

If I can remember to do these simple things, then for the rest of my so-called life, I’m good.  For now.

Thanks for reading and mabuhay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bakit di laging masama ang kaplastikan sa trabaho


plasticman

[ Hi there: I can’t apologize for the wry or pessimistic nature of the post; but I hope you’re not too put off by it Precious Reader.  Most of the time we celebrate the positive aspects of the Pinoy personality.  Just not this time.  Thanks and acknowledgment for the plasticman pic to cooltoyreview.com and  happy workweek ahead, everyone! ]

YOU KNOW it, I know it, we all know it.

“Kaplastikan” (the first and last time I’ll mark the word with quote marks, it is, after all used almost universally where Filipino is spoken) is as much a part of Pinoy existence as rice, videoke and halo-halo.  It is time to acknowledge it, at home, in the workplace and in public life, and to accept it for what is: something that all of us use, recognize and live with.

As a working definition, let me offer one: behavior or speech that is often insincere but more or less acceptable to the listener or person/s around, designed to avoid awkwardness, unnecessary disagreements or minor misunderstandings which do not affect the result of the current interaction “facilitated” by such plastic behavior (the adjective form of kaplastikan).

Frequently we all deride or disparage our countrymen or women kabayan of kaplastikan but the truth is, all of us, no exception (unless you’re a living saint or a hermit), behave with kaplastikan regularly, occasionally or once in a while, as the need arises.

We do this to smooth things over, to please or mollify our superiors, or because we need a favor or two from someone we’d rather not interact with.  No one can deny the utility of kaplastikan, where we (1) avoid making statements that, although true, would hurt or criticize the listener, (2) exaggerate the qualities of the listener in order to make him/ her feel better, (3) make white lies to avoid conflict between the speaker and the listener, or even third persons not around.

I won’t say these are personal experience/s (wink, wink), but here are a few specific workplace situations where, in my humble opinion, kaplastikan works :

Your co-worker doesn’t observe hygiene at a level you’re used to.  This is probably one of the most common instances where kaplastikan is observed.  Someone doesn’t brush or floss regularly, is very lax on deodorant, and shampoos the hair only during holidays.  You would love to tell that person even ONCE that he or she is exhibiting oppressive behavior making life difficult for everyone around them.

But you don’t.  Moreover, you pay compliments that are likely to distract, confuse or divert attention to the real problem of the co-worker’s lack (or total absence of ) hygiene.  Reasons?  You work with this person 8 or more hours a day, five days a week, and 50+ weeks a year.  Whatever satisfaction you might derive telling that person off,  you have to live with the consequences because you will continue to co-exist with that person, who has now realized you can’t stand his/her bad breath / body odor / hair odor.

So you (try to) focus on the positives and compliment that person on his/her cheerfulness, work attitude, and clean uniforms.  You have to, because the alternative would be to hurt the person’s feelings (even if your sense of smell has long been offended).  That is kaplastikan.

Listener doesn’t take criticism well and is in a position of authority over you.  Specifically, in a position to make life miserable for you, all because you mentioned that person’s lack of fashion sense.  That’s just a random example, but a similar trifle or minor detail is enough to wind up this type of person enough to put you in his/her crosshairs, just because you were a bit too candid for comfort.

The solution?  It’s a bit drastic, but never mention anything negative, and only mention something when it’s positive.  If it means being less than truthful, then you’re doing it in the spirit of self-preservation, which is after all one of the pillars of kaplastikan.

Obviously, this takes a lot of discipline, self-restraint and with some persons, denying what you see right in front of you.  But keep practicing and with time, it will become second nature to you.  Trust me, kaplastikan works with a lot of Pinoys.

when the evil avoided by kaplastikan is greater than being honest or sincere.  You admit to everyone present that you are dismayed by your colleague’s quality of work. But in the process alienate yourself from everyone.  You withhold your praise for your supervisor (and thus deny him/her the unanimous approval of his/her team he needs for full bonus / incentives), not the least because he/she doesn’t deserve it, but because you’re the only one who withholds, you’re a moving target for extra work and sh*tty shift hours.  What to do, what to do?

Simple lang yan, bro / sis.  DON’T be dismayed, DON’T withhold praise, in fact go the other way and tell everyone within earshot that your work mate is the best and praise your bisor to the high heavens.

Why? Because that is the way of the world, and that is how things get done.  You go plastic, and you prove yourself a team player.  Yung nga lang, truth is the first casualty.  But you know what?  In this case/s, there are things more important than truth.

Just a few specific situations, but you get my meaning, kabayan.  Kaplastikan goes a long way, sometimes nga lang at the expense of truth.  But everything balances out in the end.

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

kwentong obrero nitong biyernes ng your loyal kabayan (blager)


Sam the Tongan always makes my day.  Whether or not he knows it. :) Malo lelei!

Sam the Tongan always makes my day. Whether or not he knows it. 🙂 Malo lelei!

[ Note : This has nothing to do with being Pinoy.  Nothing to do with being migrant either.  Well, in a way it has a little to do with both, because anything to do with me right now has to do with being a Pinoy migrant, so parang ganun na rin.  Happy birthday Kuya JB Baylon! ]

Health and safety meeting.  I’m seated next to Sam, who because we’re from different departments I don’t see everyday, but who always makes my day with his size and attitude.  I say size because his biceps are the size of my thighs, and his thighs are the size of my torso (in diameter), and I say attitude because he’s always cheerful and upbeat.

Before I nod off to dreamland, I whisper something to him.

“Any chance you’ll get it soon Sam?” 

“Easier to squeeze blood out of stone, Noel.”

I sigh at that.  By it I mean getting regular status, because if any temp at the work site deserves it, it’s Sam.

Other things I know about him :  He’s Tongan, and loves rugby, almost as much as he loves his wife and daughter, but not quite.  He’s also downed 36 bottles of beer.  In one sitting.  And played rugby the next morning.

Lastly, when it still wasn’t politically incorrect, Sam (around my age) once ate a platter of whale meat, freshly caught and for breakfast.  Breakfast!  Probably more than a few years ago.

One more thing.  On longevity alone, Sam certainly deserves more than a serious look by way of becoming regularized.  I can’t tell you how long he’s been on site, but let’s put it this way.  He was already the champion in drinks our last Christmas party.  And we’re almost there again around this time.  As Kris A. would say, deserving naman, daba?

*****     *****     *****

Union meeting.  Time to negotiate another CBA again.  Of course, there’s the pay rise, lagi namang kasama yon sa bagong kasunduan between labor and management, but there are a few other items.  Shift allowances, confined space allowances, working at heights allowances, redundancy packages, and all that.  You might never get anything, but it never hurts to ask.

All the time the union rep was consulting us prior to negotiations, my thoughts kept returning to Sam.  Here we were on the gravy train talking about getting an extra 12 dollars an hour just for using the forklift, and outside the room he was working today, not even sure if he was gonna be on the roster next week.  Wasn’t very comforting.

[  We’re not getting into the nitty-gritty legalese of this situation, kabayan.  Company has its reasons for regularizing any warm body doing work.  Or not regularizing.  On the other hand, if Sam wants to come to work anytime his bisor texts him, good for him and God bless him.  Just sayin, you know? Wala lang.]

*****     *****     *****

Uwian time.  Nauna na ako sa locker room para di makalanghap ng mga amoy bawang at sibuyas, and that’s putting it mildly.  Springtime pa lang, but it’s already getting sweaty around the work site.

Curiously, I see Sam, still not going home though, because there’s still overtime work available.  No one wants to work overtime on a Friday (everybody’s already drunk thinking of their first brewski watching the All Blacks thrash Namibia, kahit replay), but beggars can’t be choosers, and Sam at least for today, isn’t a chooser.  He will grab any overtime within 10 meters.  I’m happy for him (that he has overtime money coming) but I would be happier if he was seriously considered for regular status.

Hey Sam, have a great weekend.  May I take I picture of you I ask on a whim.

“If you’re gonna take my picture Noel, make sure I look good.”

The result is the pic up there.  Does he look good kabayan?

Thanks for reading!

juan tamad gets poked gives blood sees double atbp for the visa physical


hope you don't think it's in poor

hope you don’t think it’s in poor “taste” (get it?), thanks & acknowledgment to memeblender.com! 🙂

IT’S THAT time of the year again, Precious Reader.  Roll of the dice, shell game or single bullet in the chamber (sorry for the morbid metaphor), call it what you will, but the parchment that permits our stay in Disneyland to earn our pieces of silver another year needs to be renewed, based on many factors but mainly on whether or not the job we perform is important enough that even non-permanent residents like me should be left alone to do it.  And continue staying in the land of milk and honey by the way.

But that’s not our topic du jour prepared especially for you Precious Read.  Rather, every now and then (as opposed to every year, at least they’re not that cruel) Immigration New Zealand sees it fit that we guest workers submit ourselves to medicals and physicals to determine whether or not we are fit and healthy enough to continue working in this paradise.  That is what I wanna talk to you about today, how I went about doing it.  Or rather, how I went about having it done to me.

I had to in summary, submit to a basic physical, give blood and urine, then see the doc again if there were any issues based on the bloodwork and other tests.  Easier said than done, but it’s not like we had a choice.  Moreover, the entire thing would set me back roughly $500NZ, a pretty penny but well worth it. The doctor, a white Kiwi in his mid-50’s tried to be as professional as possible, but I couldn’t avoid  getting a creepy feeling.  I remembered him from last time, which wasn’t difficult because he touched my family jewels for a little longer than a few seconds.  He also tickled my smelly heels with a semi-sharp instrument, ostensibly to check my responses but likewise to see how Asians laugh.  But that’s just me.

Just before that was the usual twenty questions, which any sane worker wanting to continue staying in New Zealand would answer no to.  Have you ever been exposed to : tuberculosis, HIV, drug abuse, any communicable disease, ever been treated for mental illness, ever been operated on, ever stayed in bed for more than a week, etc. etc. etc?  His tone was cordial, but his demeanor and eyes were screaming :  you would be crazy to answer yes to any of these apocalyptic-sounding questions, and, as I had been doing the past eight-plus years, answered no no no no no no, and for good measure, a resounding NO!  To which he replied, with deadpan understatement, that’s good then.

All very good then, but my general denials had to be backed up by my blood chemistry, x-rays and related stuff, which had to be sorted out and organized in two different clinics nearby.  Said establishments were very quick and efficient, much like seasoned workers herding obedient cows and goats to the milking stations.  Which was in a sense what we were, since body fluids and other unmentionables were gonna be secreted out of us nervous individuals.

[I say nervous because let’s face it, I had recently reached my half-century mark, and this was the time for all good men to face the reality of middle age, where lifestyle diseases start to make their presence felt, where Mother Nature tries to cash cheques your body wrote out years and years ago, and where you start paying for the foolishness of misguided youth.  You can’t blame me for thinking if any of this silliness starts looking for payback in the form of red marks on physical exams.]

*****     *****     *****

Coincidentally I had a lung capacity, blood pressure and eye/hearing test done at the workplace the previous week, but for slightly different reasons.  Occupational hazards like unacceptable noise levels, dust levels and the realities of physical exertion required that we maintain a certain level of fitness, and that we haven’t broken down from said occupational hazards, and the only way to determine this was if the employer itself conducted physicals. My BP was an acceptable 125/60, hearing and lung capacity roughly the same as last year’s, but because I brought an old pair of spectacles to work that day, I didn’t pass the eye exam.  Let’s just say if I was taking a driving test that day, I would’ve been sent home for a retest.

All told, I’m generally as fit as a fiddle for a man my age, but I’m still waiting for the results of my blood and x-rays.  We never feel as mortal as when confronted by the reality of the state of our bodies, and I try to be as realistic as the next human being.  We are only as good as our last physical, and thank you God for every sunrise that we wake up to!  Thanks for reading!

`bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual lang ang oras mo?’


In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James.  But don't hold your breath waiting.  In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! :)

In the distant future, we will get the same sweet deal as Seth and James. But don’t hold your breath waiting. In the meantime, zero-hour workers of the world, unite! 🙂

BY the time I was in 3rd or 4th grade primary, Dad said I would find a lot of things interesting in his Quiapo printing shop, which was a sneaky way of getting me to work summers in the family enterprise.  Well, besides the 19th century minerva presses, the printer’s ink smell that permeated the whole site, and the endless folding, glueing and old-style embossing in the binding department, I also liked to watch my aunt type payroll forms in her giant Underwood typewriter.  My aunt, when she wasn’t bringing me with her shopping in Carriedo and Villalobos, was also the company accountant.

On Thursdays, I would look at her tally the time sheets and overtime logs and summarize it into one spreadsheet-like payroll record.  The supervisors were earning six pesos and hour, the rank-and-file around P4.  A special column was reserved for overtime pay, where the premium was 50 centavos over your regular rate.  Everyone, even Dad, was in this payroll summary, which seemed to me quite cool for my aunt, as she got to know what everyone was paid.

[ By the way, I didn’t know why she seemed to think I was invisible, as she didn’t allow anyone else to see what she was typing.  I guess kids really got away with a lot, until they started sprouting facial hair. 🙂 ]

No matter what your position was in the company, as long as you were on the regular roster, you got the same eight hours.  Everyone, from the Mainland Chinese pressmen who’d been in the shop since the Communists overran China in 1949, to the youngest kargadors and apprentices from my mom’s hometown in Masbate, were considered “regulars” because they were “regularly” rostered and received 48 hours a week,  and an additional 50 centavos an overtime hour over their regular rate, but that was enough to sweeten the deal.  The overtime was there often, and everyone took it.  Everyone was happy to take the overtime, but the 48 hours were basic; everyone expected it.  And got it.

*****     *****     *****

I was around 10 years old or thereabouts, but it didn’t take an adult to understand the fundamental agreement between hirer and hiree.  In return for skills and commitment to executing the will of the hirer, hiree is given cash for his efforts.  Because the basic hours of work ends on the eighth hour, anything over that is an imposition on the worker’s leisure and / or personal time.  So there’s a “premium” or extra value assigned to eight-hours-plus.  There may be fringe benefits or additional details to the agreement, but as far as everyone’s concerned,  the work, and the eight-hours comprise 95% of the deal.

*****     *****     *****

Nearly four decades have passed, and I’ve worked in two countries, and maybe in a dozen workplaces.  The deal hasnt’ changed.  Which is why, when some wise guys try to tinker with that basic agreement, and introduce bull-bleep like “giving workers 40 hours isn’t necessarily part of the contract of work” or “employees are actually independent contractors and there’s no employer-employee relationship in reality,” I just roll my eyes.

Amazingly, the potential for abuse in a regular work contract where hours aren’t guaranteed (or “zero-hours” contracts as they are also known), be it in New Zealand where I am now, or in the Philippines, is so obvious it should be plain to everybody, and yet until last week the clamor for change wasn’t taken seriously.

*****     *****     *****

I’ll give you just one example.  Daughter Ganda had been working in a popular hamburger chain here in Wellington for a few months (and had therefore assumed, correctly, that she enjoyed regular employee status) before she had an argument with her supervisor/manager.  Seems that she couldn’t make it to an emergency shift that her boss asked to her work in place of a sick co-worker.  Cool, the boss said, don’t worry about it (the sarcasm a little more than palpable), but don’t ask me for any extra shifts in the future.

He was good on his word, and then some.  Not only did he stop giving Ganda any extra shifts like he used to, he also gradually cut down her hours until Ganda worked no more than the typical casual or part-time worker.  All because she didn’t do the manager a favor when he needed it.  This, based on the reasoning that the manager stops being a good guy the moment you (Ganda) stop “being a team player.”  Sheeeeesh.

The tragedy not just to Ganda but to thousands of other workers like her (especially in the food service industry) was/is that the discriminatory action of managers like Ganda’s is perfectly reasonable and legal in light of the zero-hours contract that so many workers agree to, if they want to earn their bread.

At the risk of sounding repetitive :  What’s the incentive to aspiring to become a regular employee when there’s no assurance you’ll get regular hours?  In Taglish:  Bakit ka pa nag-regular kung pang casual pa rin ang oras mo?   Bakeeeet?

*****     *****     *****

Last week was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Restaurant Brands, which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, has finally begun to realize what an unjust contract the zero-hours contract is, and has removed it from all their labor contracts.  The union that was once a lonely voice in the wilderness is now rightfully earning kudos (I think it’s First Union, which I happen to belong to 🙂 ) and hope that not only the rest of the food industry, but the whole of New Zealand employer-dom will follow suit.  It’s not a dream anymore.

The day will come when the zero-hours contract will be a thing of the past, and workers like Ganda can’t wait.  Hopefully, that day will come soon.  In the meantime, don’t lose hope Ganda!

Thanks for reading!

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!