Enlightened companies: A bit of United Nations at Hellers

Enlightened companies: A bit of United Nations at Hellers

In our previous issue, we interviewed Peter Townsend, Chief Executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, who mentioned that “enlightened companies succeed in their businesses by employing migrants”. Here's an example.

[caption for the above picture: (clockwise from left) Mehrdad Sanaei (sitting on extreme left), Alex Gonzales, Sebastian Mihura, Lina Manaia and Erika Herrera]

The population of Waimakariri is changing, with the range of ethnicities and numbers growing as employers have to go further afield to recruit workers. An example is Hellers Ltd in Kaiapoi, which employs 450 people in their state-of-the-art meat processing plant and over 50 are migrant workers.

Amatanga Sefo, and Lina Manaia are Samoan and are two of a group of twenty Hellers recruited a few years ago. The others eventually left for Auckland to join the sizeable Samoan community there. Lina has five children, two at Kaiapoi High School, two at Kaiapoi Borough School and one in preschool. Next year her daughter will be studying Business Studies at university. Amatanga recently became a father again and his children are already at the Borough School too.

"We are here for the future of our kids, and for the money we can earn," noted Lina.

The Company
Carole Peterson, in her position of heading the Hellers’ human resources team of four, helps them to settle in, find a home, and get the appropriate working visas. “We provide pastoral care for the migrants in many ways, ensuring they fit in. The company has five houses for accommodation, which we rent to them. We get them started if they need it but some organise themselves, but others arrive with just a couple of bags and need much more help,” said Carole, who has learnt to be flexible as it is difficult to plan for their needs.

“There's often no way of planning pastoral care, we have to respond to people's needs and they vary wildly. We want the good workers to stay, the important thing is that they are happy working here and they do their job well,” she added.

The jobs for migrants are only available if there are no Kiwis to fill the positions. Attracting staff has become difficult because of the demands of the Christchurch rebuild. With almost full employment in Canterbury, any Kiwis available for work often don't have the required skill level or physical fitness and they also have to be drug free to fulfil the health and safety requirements of a meat processing plant.

“A certain level of hand eye dexterity is required. Of fifteen Kiwi applicants sent by WINZ, eleven failed the drug test,” Carole informed, adding that earlier attempts to get labour from the Pacific Islands failed over the long term as the attraction of Auckland saw their numbers dwindle.

“The Pacific Island quota failed as we had too big a turnover, after a year 30% had moved to Auckland and after 18 months that grew to 50%. We found the Fijians have higher skills but an even lower retention rate.”

Now they don't have to target people as word of mouth brings applicants, and more frequently Hellers is a popular choice for young South Americans here on a working visa.

Latin America
Erika Herrera from Argentina, Alex Gonzales from Chile and Sebastian Mihura from Uruguay flat together in Christchurch with other South Americans and it is the safety, the increased opportunities for work that have lured them to NZ.

Alex, 29, says work is very difficult to find in Chile. He has been at Hellers now for 18 months working in the packaging department. He came with his girlfriend of eight years and lives with her. “It's easy for us to find work here on a three year working visa and if there is still a job for us after that we can apply for another visa,” he says.

Because of the rebuild, the working visa has been extended for workers in Canterbury to allow a renewal after three years or an extension for one year. Application for residency can be made after working here for two years but unless the semi skilled South Americans find higher qualifications or a job no New Zealander can do, it is unlikely to be successful.

Erika has been here for one year and she followed a boyfriend here. They live with nine other Latin Americans who have all been lured by the money and safety of New Zealand. “Kiwis are such good people,” says Erika. She will stay five years if she can, but returning home eventually.

Carole Peterson says they have very few problems with their migrant workers at Hellers and it is well worth employing them.

One migrant who has managed to get residency because of his newly acquired skill level is Carlos Tamaya from Colombia who is the Site Engineer Manager.

Mehrdad Sanaei from Iran, is a reminder of an earlier time when Iranians were fleeing their country and New Zealand became his new home. Arriving 27 years ago, first settling in Nelson, followed by time in Rangiora operating his souvlaki take-away, he has worked at Hellers for six years.

“I love it here. New Zealanders are so friendly, it’s safe and I like the quiet life I can have with my two children,” he says.

The Christchurch rebuild has attracted many foreign workers, especially Filipinos, who originally came to Canterbury to work in health, doing jobs that Kiwis no longer enjoyed, like rest home care. Now one in three of the rebuild migrant workers are Filipino and many also work on farms in Waimakariri.

The Council
Canterbury councils have recognised the increase in diversity across the region and through the Mayoral Forum are working together to share information and resources to connect with and help them make links to people and organisations that can assist in their integration. Councils are aware that with an ageing population there will be a shortage of workers in New Zealand and therefore a very likely increase of migrant workers required in the future.

Waimakariri District Council has implemented a long term plan for newcomers and migrants over the next five years. Denise Wiggins of the Community Team says connection is the keyword. The Council wants to connect with migrants and help them make the right connections to others in their community, with agencies and service providers like Kaiapoi Community Support and the Citizens Advice Bureau that can help them settle in, so that they know how to access information and feel safe and at home, in what to them, is a foreign environment.

Many Pacific Islanders live in motor-camps in the district, and although their  
children have fitted in well to schools, often living conditions and social isolation for the families may be a problem.

“Language can be a barrier for them and often adapting to a New Zealand work culture can be a problem. Using this long term plan the Council aims to see the newcomers and migrants engaged and participating in the community and to feel welcome,” noted Denise.

The list of ethnicities in Waimakariri District in the last census revealed a huge range of nationalities, and the future picture of our district looks set to be an even more cosmopolitan one than it is already.

- This story and picture is contributed by Jackie Watson from the Kaiapoi Advocate. We also thank Denise Wiggins from the Waimakariri District Council for her help with the story.

Click on the image to enlarge it and read the printed version of the story.

Click on the image to enlarge it and read the printed version of the story.

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