Civil Engineer Now Cleaning Ovens In NZ – updated

Continuing in our series of Migrant Tales – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.

Today’s tale was sent in by an American reader who left it as a comment to our “Impossible job market” tale.

Update: When you’ve finished reading it scroll down a read a response that was made to it from a New Zealander.

Are we to believe that all Kiwi employers operate within the law, that legal redress is easy to access and disadvantaged migrants with temporary work visas never get taken advantage of?

If there was ever a case for migrant advisory and support services in New Zealand ‘Erin’s’ mindset is an excellent example of how much they are needed.

Read also Hundreds paid less than the minimum wage

My partner is a licensed Civil Engineer from the Philippines. He has dreamed of living in New Zealand ever since he was a little child. Two years ago, he got sucked into the idea that he could be happy and prosperous if he emigrated to NZ. It was the right time in his life to make the move, and so he did. He applied, got accepted and finally made the move last year. He has been living in Auckland since then and is still cleaning ovens in a bread factory to this day.

Thats right, he is CLEANING OVENS IN A BREAD FACTORY. An educated and licensed civil engineer, who was LURED into emigrating to NZ to fulfill his dream career in the land he always dreamed of living, is instead, forced to clean ovens in order to survive.

After years of post graduate school and a degree in civil engineering and architectural design, New Zealand welcomed him to their tiny island nation not with a hard hat and Auto CAD, but with a push broom and a cleaning rag.

He was actually INVITED by NZ to come and work in Auckland as a civil engineer. They said they needed his skills! There was no promise of employment at that time, but they told him he was welcome to come to NZ and give it his best shot!

Luckily, I had absolutely NO DESIRE to go to NZ so I did not accompany him and I stayed behind in the US. I thought it would be best for him to find out the real deal about NZ before I made any moves. Well, I am glad I did that. He works 12+ hours a day, minimum of 6 days a week, doing manually intensive labor for very poor wages. He shares a drafty house with a young married Filipino/Indian couple.

I have had to help him financially to meet his monthly end to end living expenses, otherwise he wouldn’t make it on his paycheck alone. I feel like I am funneling my hard earned money to the Kiwi economy with NO BENEFIT to either my partner or myself. He has paid large sums of money to the NZ immigration to apply for this that and the other thing to try and get his permanent residency. They had had no problems taking his money, but they offered little to no service in return. Instead, they lost his passport, lost most of his paperwork and in the end they denied him permanent residency because they felt his current occupation as an oven cleaner in a bread factory was not sufficient enough to deem him worthy of permanent residence status. His work visa is good for another couple of months, so he remains determined to succeed in his goals of working as a Civil Engineer or Architect. He is stubborn.

I’m afraid there are many unsuspecting people who think that they can emigrate to NZ and start to live their dream lives like in any normal first world country. My partner’s journey to NZ has turned out to be nothing but a complete disappointment. As well as being disillusioned with the whole process, he is also becoming increasingly depressed and I have never seen such a hopeless side to his personality before. I believe that a big contributing factor is that he is treated like scum of the earth at the bread factory and he has to deal with a lot of racism from the locals there as well. One day while walking down the street, he was harassed by local kiwi teenagers who threw make shift water balloons and bags of trash at him as they drove past him. Where do the Kiwi youth learn such behavior?

At work, he is subjected to unsafe working conditions as well. His supervisors frequently demand that he bypass safety interlocks on the equipment so that the ovens are not turned off when he cleans them (These are industrial sized walk-in ovens). So, they put their profit margins way above his personal safety. They don’t care about him, and to them he is just an expendable body. Any back talk or complaining on his part would surely result in immediate suspension or termination from his one and only job.

We are both in our mid-30′s and we both agree that NZ was the biggest mistake of our lives. He is giving himself until July 2011 to find a decent job. If not, then he will come home. He is determined to succeed, as a civil engineer in NZ even just to prove it to himself that he is strong and that all of the hardship he has endured has not been for nothing. I have a feeling that NZ is going to completely crush his spirit until they can squeeze the very last penny out of his pocket. A licensed Civil Engineer forced to clean ovens in a bread factory? They even denied him permanent residency because he was not working as a civil engineer, yet, they wont hire him as a Civil Engineer because he is not a Kiwi, and lets face it, because he is BROWN, not white. He is such a talented civil engineer, yet no one in NZ will even consider him as a candidate for hire.

In summary, NZ’s goal is to lure potential immigrants to their country so they can extract their money, their soul and their sanity, after which they will yell, “NEXT!”.

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20 thoughts on “Civil Engineer Now Cleaning Ovens In NZ – updated

  1. I am a civil engineer in highway,road and wsd engineering and yes I am struggling to find a job despite all the available job opportunities online.New Zealand is becoming difficult for me.

  2. Yes, Kabayan don’t loose hope. NZ it is not the only country in the world that you can practice your skills as Civil Engineer, in those western country we cannot just applied our own profession because they are totally different system to be followed, I think as professional skilled you will start from zero there in other words it’s very long process before you can practice your profession in western county unless you hired for that profession in that place. Think about it make you’re move and decide before it’s too late. If you are really good why you don’t consider to work in Middle East Country sabi nga nila Pera-Pera lang yan, because if you work in middle east pagandahan ng contrata ang laban which is the best go for that at the same time you are working as your profession.

  3. i am 14 years experienced Civil Engineer and i applied for NZ Immigration ,i surprise to see this horrible story and scarring comments ,my question, really New Zealand is difficult country to get job as Civil Engineer?

    • I can not speak directly to civil engineering, but generally if you have experience [other than NZ] it will not be seen as “valid”. NZ has their own way of doing things; performing/doing work, employer/employee relations, standard [in NZ] methods and practices which is why ONLY NZ experience is valued. If you are unaware or unfamiliar with NZ methods [and especially if you mention methods that may work better or be different] you will not be welcomed. NZ does not want to be told that the methods they employ could be improved upon, that means that they did not figure it out right the first time, and they DO NOT like amending their practices or being criticized.
      Civil cases on point [that I have observed];
      Methods used to repair/build roads that do not work as well as the “design” should have them. A section of road built specifically to accommodate heavy port traffic needed to be redone within 2 years, a same section of road being repaired numerous times repeatedly using same methods [that didn’t work the first few times], inefficiency of work force where you see the “ballet” of contractor trucks traversing the same section of road multiple times in the same day [joy riding/killing time].
      It is not as though the roads DO NOT need attention, so why are these guys cruising around [doing nothing] while the repair [such as it is] of roads goes undone?
      Time wasters, poor design, inefficient methods. If you think that you can work [to your professional standard] in an environment like that, NZ might be for you.

      • Well i am a civil engineer specializes in highway,road engineering.I have studied also in NZ about the road engineering standards.Sorry but I am trying hard and I am finding no opportunity at all.I may have to start working in something totally different.

  4. …that’s why think about it many times before making a decision. Moving to NZ is a major decision that can affect or change the lives of your family members. Its easy to make promises, but not all promises are fulfilled. I empathize with you, Civil Engr, who ended up cleaning ovens as well as your loved ones who once held high hopes in a “postcard” country. Who would not want to live in such a beautiful country like NZ that is so blessed with lakes, and greens and mountains? But postcard picture is different from reality. I have not been to NZ, its not fair to say something against it, what Im saying is that think very well, do some research before making a great & life-changing decision.

    • …that’s why think about it many times before making a decision.
      What you think about and what actually happens on the ground may be poles apart.
      You left out the freezing cold of winter in a badly insulated house (some of which may only be 5 or 10 years old!)
      If you turn up, make sure you haven’t sold everything back home and have a open return ticket home (those are usually valid for a year).
      Do NOT try to be a hero … we recognise them because very few survive the process of being called one.
      As Clint Eastwood said “Do you feel lucky?”

  5. I commend Erin for her patriotic loyalty.
    She’s got a serious case “harden up, she’ll be right”.
    In otherwords “get over it, things could be worse”.

  6. There is a dualality in thinking;
    Go to ERA and get “saftey” protection, but if you go to the ERA, you’ll be “blackballed” and never work in NZ again.
    NZ wants “skilled labor”, but the “wwiNZ” [never heard that term, but it fits] is all over the place. I’m a builder, worked for one contractor, quit because the wages were so low. The contractor that I quit actively went out and tried to discredit my qualifications so as to prevent me from getting hired elsewhere. Worked for another contractor [despite the efforts of my first employer] and was told how much they valued skill, technical expertice, integrity…
    Right up to the point where my integrity interfered with their profit margin, then I was let go under some pretence. So, although my skill level, productivity, work ethic, and integrity far exceeded my Kiwi counterparts, I was let go BECAUSE I had intergity.
    I don’t want to paint all NZers with the same brush, but my experiance is that they [Kiwis] REALLY don’t mean what they say OR say what they mean. The lack of honesty is very “shocking”.
    Everything is expensive, services are poor. Quality of housing is poor, and expensive.
    Electricity is unbelievably expensive. Cell phone, fuel, internet, all expensive.
    I can pretty much get over the cost of living thing, it’s the double-mindedness that is really hard to get over. Lying is a way of life, very few people here are honest, or even value honesty as a “good” thing.

    • Strangely I heard the same from another person about ERA- blackballed and never able to work again.
      I met this person who had a genuine ‘whistle blowing’ complaint with his bullying employer and then that person found it hard to find another job as the silly rule in NZ is that you need to get good references from your most recent employer. So of course, that poor person cannot get any recommendation. Which means to say that the employers are also small minded. In the real world, people working together do not get along due to bullying, personality problems, favouritism, etc and for the sanity of the one being bullied, they took their grievances up to the authority.

      But bingo!!!! Your whole career is put to a grinding brake…especially in NZ. Potential employers are trained in the Kiwi style to contact previous employers to find out more about you and yes, some previous employers are mean . When you cannot get along with one boss, it does not mean that you are written off. You can perform well or even better with another supervisor or boss who does not macro manage your work and find faults. Some employees stay long in a company as their supervisors or higher up bosses motivate them and don’t pick on their faults.
      So, do you still think that Kiwis are a nice bunch of helpful, kind and empathetic people after your awful experience?

  7. I have driven taxis myself actually. It’s true there are some very over-qualified people in the taxi profession, but they certainly do not make up the majority. Many people, like myself, drive a taxi because of the flexible working hours (often they are studying). The Pakistani-qualified brain surgeon driving a taxi story makes great media sensation, but it’s a bit of a tired story and most people know how far it is from representative of reality.

    You’ve not responded to any of my points, but rather rubbished my comments without basis. You two have obviously dedicated your lives to filling this website with anecdotes and unsubstantiated nonsense, and I commend your efforts. I’d be very interested to know how you came to have quite such a large axe to grind with New Zealand.

    How would you compare New Zealand with, say, Afghanistan, as a place to live? I challenge you to make one unconditionally positive comment about New Zealand, as surely every country on the planet (even Afghanistan) must have something to recommend it?

    Endless anecdotes about unemployed skilled migrants does not comprise evidence. Every country in the world has skilled people in crappy jobs, and the real substance to the argument should come from hard data. The unemployment rate (and under-employment rate) in NZ is among the lowest in the world (now especially), and compares notably favourably with the USA, almost every country in Europe, the UK, Australia, Canada, and of course Afghanistan.

    Where do you live?

  8. Erin’s remark is a typical Kiwi reponse – putting blinkers on to the realities of financial survival in New Zealand. They do not have soup kitchens everywhere like they do in the US. Many problems that migrants experience, despite the protections that are legally in place, relate to the public and private disparity. That is, the difference between what seems to be available, and what is actually available “on the ground”,i.e., the informal behaviour of the locals that determines your fate. You are discouraged from rocking boats. If you do, you may find yourself downsized for a made-up reason or set up to be discharged, with no one else then willing to hire you because you are a troublemaker, so silently blackballed. Everyone knows this. Court processes take a very long time, and outcomes uncertain. The court is just a constipated brontosaurus that everyone manoeuvres around. Meanwhile, you have to keep yourself afloat until you find out whether you qualify for this sort of help or that sort – or not. WINZ and other social service restrictions on helping people in one circumstance or another are very stringent. Much more so after the new administration tightened up its eligibility. You have to meet certain narrow conditions, and even then, it is at the discretion of the official whether you receive help or not – and it takes a long time to find this out, and in the meantime you swing in the wind. It is much like living in Sicily, wth the clannishness and bureaucracy. Many people prefer not to use official channels for all these reasons. The cost of living is such that everyone is squeezed, and because of the informal economy reigning over the formal one, there is a level of general mistrust so that it takes years to build up anything resembling a social network.to an extent that you may be permitted to approach one of the outer rings of their protective circles. So they can snippily flash their “protections” as much as they like, but that does not mean a given migrant will be permitted to access these, or access them without ramifications, or in a timely and effective manner. You are always living just a few millimeters above the frypan here. Kiwis funnel much of their energy into attracting steady cash sources and keeping them, more so than in many other countries, because they are juggling heavy loads of property debt.

    • You make a good point about migrants not being permitted to access “protections” for various reasons. Would free access to migrant support and advocacy services improve the situation, or is a sea change needed in employer attitudes?

      Lincoln Tan recently exposed the plight of a number of highly skilled immigrants who entered New Zealand with silver fern visas. There is an annual quota of 300 available every year but only a low number of holders were able to find work – of any kind : 85 last year

      He cites as examples:

      Bangkok university lecturer and science graduate 33 year old Chanon Jitkomu who’d been doing a food-court job that paid $6 an hour, obviously well below the legal minimum wage.

      A 34-year-old former business analyst with a multinational company, working as a stripper to pay her rent.

      Another migrant who has a master’s degree in economics, working in a Korean restaurant for $400 a week.

      Chanon Jitkomu told Mr Tan

      “The Silver Fern visa is like a trap.It gives you false hope and puts you in a position where you can easily be exploited as cheap labour by employers after you get here. “I am desperate and I will take any job I can get, even if it is under minimum wage, because I have a wife and child in Thailand waiting for me to send money.”

      It is clear that some immigrants are being exploited. Read our most recent blog “Hundreds being paid less than the minimum wage”

  9. If your comments are accurate, your partner is not employed in accordance with New Zealand employment law (which has extensive provisions for minimum wage entitlements, working hours and conditions, employment relations, etc) and I suggest you challenge your employer through the employment relations authority and if necessary the courts. State financial assistance is available for the process if you cannot afford representation. New Zealand has excellent labour laws and employees (even without proper employment contracts) are generally very well looked after by the courts and the ERA. If, as you suggest may happen, your partner were to be dismissed for complaining about his working conditions, his employer would doubtless be found to be in breach of their obligations to act in good faith in dealings with employees, and your partner would be reinstated. The courts would be likely to award back pay and holiday entitlements if the employer had not paid the minimum required, and if a case can be made that your partner has suffered, a grievance claim would also be a possibility.

    Employment in NZ is generally fair to both parties and I do not believe your partner’s case to be in any way representative of the country. Your failure to remedy the situation sounds like it stems from failing to research your rights and take the remedial actions which are made so readily available by the New Zealand state. New Zealand employment laws are second only to those found in Scandinavia in terms of protection of employee rights. I suggest you do something about it rather than tarring the entire country in a public forum with your anecdotal brush. Perhaps your naivety (and anger?) about the solutions available to you stem from your experience of life in the USA, where employee protection is virtually nil.

    I suspect your claim that your partner’s passport was lost was due to the destruction of the Christchurch office (where many of the residency applications are processed) in the February 22 earthquake. This happened to a number of people, but I believe all those passports were eventually returned or replaced at the cost of the Department of Internal Affairs. You should contact them if your problem remains unresolved.

    If your partner really does work 12 hours a day for 6 days a week, he would be making over $48,000 per year, plus holiday entitlements of 8% (or four weeks paid leave). The median annual wage in New Zealand is around $50,000, so while I agree that those are terrible hours (and illegal hours, at that) the notion that you would have to support him financially cannot be valid.

    New Zealand is a country of immigrants, and there are quite literally millions of people who have moved to NZ and have stories quite the opposite of the experience you recount here. I don’t deny that there are problem employers and that some employees are mistreated, but situations like you describe are rare, and it is easy to claim your rights.

    I find your story rather sensationalist, and unlikely to be entirely truthful even if allowing some margin for exaggeration, but I wish you good luck in resolving your problem. It should be easy to do if you do a little homework.

    • boring ba-baa-baaa
      go to a taxi stand and ask the foreign drivers, you will be surprised how well qualified lots of them are

    • Erin, you seem to live in your own version of New Zealand. People are forced to work for long hours unofficially (where only their legal work hours are mentioned on their time sheet) and therefore no recourse for taking their employer to court. If they do not work long hours they simply get fired. There are also cases where they pay a migrant much lower wages than a Kiwi because they know he/she needs the job to attain residency, etc. There are even cases where employers force their migrant workers to pay for their own taxes or get fired (i.e., the employer writes a higher wage to IRD but in reality the worker is asked to pay the taxes that has to be paid on the higher wage while the employer pays him a lot less.

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