Welcome to the latest in our Migrant Tales series – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.
Today’s tale is the third installment written by one of our readers. In it she talks about the gender pay gap, the ‘Kiwi way’ and how the deck is stacked against you, as there is very little integrity in the NZ job market…
“In this comment I want to share my opinion (with tips) on what is possibly the most important aspect of any new immigrant’s first concern when arriving in NZ – finding a job.
NZ is a low wage economy with many jobs demanding long work hours whilst employers tip toe around the edges of the employment laws and stringent Health & Safety requirements. There is a definite gender pay gap and overall prejudice throughout much of the work environment, and this is especially prevalent in the employment process. Job seekers’ very first task is to navigate their way through what can often be frustrating and ongoing casual, part time, and temporary fixed term/contract work situations.
A recent (May 2017) news editorial in one regional newspaper stated, “Bias is a growing concern for New Zealand businesses trying to increase diversity and inclusion in their workplace, according to new research. The latest New Zealand Diversity Survey reveals that 48 percent of organisations identify bias to be a key issue, up 18% from the previous survey six months ago.” All of which I believe is a somewhat subtle, understated way of simply saying that many aspects of the NZ workplace are not transparent and lack integrity. The encouraging news here is that as with many other things, NZ is slowly but surely starting to at least become aware of its inherent workplace prejudices.
The current minimum wage is ($15.75 per hour) which I think is fair pay for a student or someone just starting out. The problem is that this is not a living wage by any measure. If you have a family, or are a single parent with one or more children in your care, you have almost no hope of keeping up with the daily cost of living (even if you work 60+ hours each and every week). If you are thinking of getting a second or even third job as a means to top your income, you may want to think again, as the secondary tax implications make this an almost futile proposition. More and more, the only way to cope on the minimum wage is to tap into the welfare system for assistance. You need a permanent residence visa to be able to do this. To be fair, the NZ welfare system does provide a lot of ongoing assistance for people in this position, and especially those with children and health issues. There are also special tax rebates (credits) that can help families scrape by on their low income on an indefinite basis.
The bulk of the NZ work force earn between $15.75 and $25 per hour with many living payday to payday. Your average qualified professional can earn anything in the region of $25-$65 per hour, and then there are the fortunate few that earn the really big dollars (for these people, NZ truly is paradise). The 2015 median (middle) annual gross income across all NZ salaries and wages was $46 000. When you run these figures through the exchange rate of some countries (just a few) they may actually look quite attractive, but you will quickly change your mind when you get to experience NZ taxation, and the high cost of living. When you do secure a job offer, a good tip to remember is that given the choice, rather than accepting a fixed salaried position (which is very tempting when you first arrive in NZ), in many cases it may be beneficial to rather opt for an hourly pay rate. Otherwise, you could end up working a whole lot more hours for no extra pay whatsoever (employers really like that). Overtime and after hours extra pay is fast becoming a thing of the past, so make sure you know exactly what the position requires in terms of the working hours and so on. This all sounds so obvious, but it is very easy to overlook these basics when you first arrive as an excited, eager to please immigrant, seeking work in an unfamiliar and intimidating job market.
Some immigrants may be lucky enough to arrive with a secure offer of employment, and that’s great. For the vast majority, including my husband and myself, we had to begin what was to be a long, stressful journey in order for one of us to finally secure full time employment, and the other to still be working year after year on a renewable fixed term contract ‘arrangement’. This type of ongoing repeated year after year temporary work contract is actually illegal in NZ, but persists throughout my specific work industry without so much as the slightest concern or redress from any official governing body.
Do not be fooled, the trick in NZ, is not only to find a job that suits your experience, qualifications, skill set and interests, but to actually be able to retain the position with opportunities for advancement. Be warned, Kiwis do not like to deviate from the Kiwi way of doing things. Many immigrants have to step very lightly in the workplace (especially when employed part time or on temporary, renewable contracts) for fear of upsetting the status quo, at least until they have settled in and been offered a permanent position (which could take anything from a day to never).
In NZ, think of a first time job search as a long blindfolded walk through a minefield with the addition of smoke and mirrors! The chances of being successful are extremely low, but you cannot stand still forever, so you slowly try to move forward one small step at a time, in the hope that you will eventually safely get to the other side.
There are many minimum wage job opportunities available. Jobs like fruit picking, cleaning, labouring, serving and casual student type jobs are relatively easy to come by. There are a few reasons for this, the first being that many Kiwis could not be bothered to work for the minimum wage when welfare is so easily accessible (more about this in another comment). Another reason is that so many Kiwi applicants fail the entry drug tests at their initial job induction. Some others simply forget if, and where they are employed, failing to arrive for work due to their unabated consumption of drugs and alcohol. You may think that I am joking, but I am actually serious about this.
Higher paying jobs are a lot more difficult to find and even harder to secure on a full time permanent basis. The big cities (Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington) are your best option for most employment opportunities, but they each have their own pros and cons in terms of living costs, weather, traffic congestion and other factors. There is no doubt that the regions are growing fast, but many of these more remote areas still have limited job opportunities and a very tight ‘Old Boys Club’ network (more on this later). Ultimately it is all about what you do, and where your specific working potential will be best suited in terms of location. It is quite possible that you could be extremely lucky and find your dream job well off the beaten track, far away from the city. You could even live happily ever after with the basic needs of a carefree lifestyle with few of the trappings of city living. This type of lifestyle will not suit many people, as it will severely limit your options in terms of schooling, healthcare and so on.
So what are some of the other every day barriers facing immigrants wishing to find employment in NZ?
I make no apologies for being blunt and direct with my opinion of the prevailing situation in the NZ job market. This minefield can be the biggest hurdle in a new immigrants life, and can quickly create a sense of failure and desperation, leading to a breakdown in self-confidence, as one ponders the question “What am I doing wrong?” At times like this, you must remember – it is not you!
Keep in mind that the deck is stacked against you, as there is very little integrity in the NZ job market. Despite the daily media ramblings of jobs galore and booming equal opportunities for all, the secret is out that this is just another typical Kiwi marketing exercise to portray a thriving NZ job market with unprecedented growth, and a fair go for all. I would really relish in describing many of my own, and my husband’s personal job search experiences, as they are truly unbelievable and even comical (now that we can look back on them). Unfortunately, I cannot do this for fear that someone out there may identify either of us and put our current employment situations at risk.
In short, here are just 5 things you should take into consideration during your NZ job search:
- The highest qualified applicant does not always get the job. The most talented applicant does not always get the job. The most experienced applicant does not always get the job. The best suited applicant does not always get the job. And not even the highest qualified; most talented; most experienced and best-suited applicant always gets the job. It’s all about ‘The Fit’! This could mean absolutely anything from the fact that the potential employer does not like the way you look, the way you talk and/or the possibility that you are higher qualified than they are, have more worldly experience than they have, and may ultimately become a potential threat to their own position of authority.
Kiwi experience trumps all other experience. This is the way it has always been. It does not matter if you invented the aeroplane; were a recent long serving certified head flight instructor and pilot for a major international airline; have flown around the world 46 times; and then journeyed to the moon and back on the weekend – the exit strategy from a potential employer may still sound something like this….. we regret to inform you that unfortunately it is clearly evident to us that you have limited experience within the New Zealand aviation sector. To add to this, you have little or no practical Kiwi flying experience either. These limitations are of concern, and may be a possible obstacle pertaining to your suitably and fit for the position…, we suggest…, we would love to hear from you in the future when…
Just because you have internationally recognised qualifications from one or more of the finest universities and/or other education institutions in the world, does not necessarily mean that you are entitled, qualified or recognised to work in NZ. Luckily, there are plenty of NZ bridging courses and other retraining opportunities available to get you ‘up to speed’ and in tune with the way things are done in NZ. These will however take some time to complete, and cost a fair amount of money. Student loans are readily available for immigrants that have a permanent residents visa.
A number of advertised jobs vacancies that are placed in print, online and sometimes even with recruitment agencies, are simply not genuinely available in the first place. Unsuspecting job seekers’ can end up spending a lot of time, cost and effort pursuing an advertised employment opportunity that is actually already allocated to an existing internal candidate/placement. Keep in mind the fact that many large corporates and businesses, as well as government departments, local councils and other public service organisations advertise their ‘available’ employment positions as a legal/internal compliance requirement. This deceptive practice is designed to give the impression of equal opportunities and a fair go for all. In cases like this, unsuspecting new job applicants (puppets) will be required to perform all the usual job application and interview requirements/processes in a well orchestrated, staged production – filled with smoke and mirrors.
The Old Boys Club runs deep in NZ! It is the usual story of: it is not what you know, but rather who you know that can assist you with securing employment. This practice is common in other countries too, but in NZ there is the added undercurrent that many of these same people have a network of deep-rooted influence, manipulation and control that extends way beyond employment issues and what could be called ‘accepted business norms’. The tentacles of The Old Boys Club extend throughout most areas of NZ business, local governance and everyday society, as they work the system for their own self interests and ego, and that of their mates and other club members. Strangely, these people are still held in high regard, championed by the establishment, media and many people in NZ that simply do not (or do not wish to) see the situation for what it is – a perpetuation of prejudice, bias, corruption and missed opportunities. Remember, these individuals have long standing Kiwi experience, this is how things have always been, and no one does it better than a Kiwi!
The Old Boys Club revolving door style practices are well known, but rarely addressed. Keep your eyes open, look around, and you will find them moving from business to business and organization to organization, selling their personal brand endorsement and stamp of approval. If you are planning on starting a business, you may even want to think about having one or more of these notable individuals on board as a business partner/shareholder, ensuring a guaranteed fast track to success (sad, but true). Fortunately, more and more of these gutless old school dinosaurs are slowly but surely becoming extinct, as they get older in years and are put out to pasture to enjoy their well feathered nests. Thankfully, the Internet also continues to be of great help in exposing the network, movements and influence of The Old Boys Club that exists in many parts of NZ.
So there you have my candid views on the NZ job market and employment minefield. Not pretty! The situation is very frustrating in the beginning, but knowing what you are dealing with, and being confident and determined whilst staying true to yourself, can make all the difference. As they say, forewarned is forearmed. More in Part 4 (to follow).”
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