Ears on the Wall Syndrome: G.U.T.S (genuine urgency to succeed)

27 September 2012

It has been a week to forget for many New Zealanders, as more lives are gutted and many families destroyed, as the government, again, have the guts to turn a blind eye on workers and families facing job losses.


Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

This week, the ‘slap-in-the-face-who-cares-about-you-and-your-family’ award is equally shared by state-owned Solid Energy and its owner – the government. The restructuring of Spring Creek and Huntly East mines, will devastate over 400 families; but it is not just the miners losing out, but contractors whose livelihoods depend on the mines’ continuation.

The West Coast town of Greymouth, the hardest hit, faces hard times as it resists the transformation from being a grey town to a ghost town. A $40 million last ditch proposal by the miners to save their jobs was snubbed by the State-Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall, who cited economic downturn in coal sales for the government’s decision. I wonder if there is a hidden agenda in Solid Energy’s restructuring of Spring Creek and Huntly East mines.

I am reminded of Tapu Misa’s recent article in the NZ Herald entitled: Politicians think it is fine to lie, because there are a few things that bother me greatly. Firstly, Solid Energy, with the blessings of the government, will axe up to 469 jobs at Spring Creek and Huntly East mines because of the low price of coal, and yet, the Minister of Economic Development, Steven Joyce, has been pestering Labour and the Greens to support Bathurst Resources Escarpment Mine (BREM) bid to develop open-cast mining near Westport. (For the record, a forest and bird environmental group has objected to BREM application to mine coal). Why would Steven Joyce support BREM with the price of coal so low and the likelihood of not sustaining paid employment, and yet clearly, Tony Ryall and the government gives the impression that coal mining is no longer a viable employment option? Perhaps, no one knows what the others are doing in the government! But what is known, however, is that governments have bailed out state-owned enterprises before, such as Air New Zealand and New Zealand Rail, when jobs were on the line.

And remember also, when Christchurch was devastated by earthquakes last year, AMI insurance was on the brink of bankruptcy, and would have put many people out of a job. But the government came to the rescue with a $500 million package, and now AMI has recovered and, on television lately, have spent much money on advertising and promoting its reliability. It is also interesting that over the past few months there have been a lot of job losses as companies either move overseas, close down, or restructure, without the government batting an eyelid. Is the government truly concerned about unemployment? The latest trend seems to suggest the government is not worry about unemployment as it believes nothing is wrong (planet Key syndrome) and have everything under control; after all, the benefit cuts should see New Zealand through its present economic crisis. It is also noticeable that job losses have come mainly from the blue collar ‘low income to poor’ chunk of society, while the high income bracket white collar wealthy club continue to be unaffected.

The second thing that has bothered me, is how to make sense of the comments made by the National MP for Maugakiekie, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, in the New Zealand Pacific newspaper, that “on average 7,000 people go off welfare and in to work every month, and Work and Income alone receive 4,800 new vacancies a month.” I was listening through the wall this week and overheard a conversation between a couple of unemployed Pacific Islanders at Mt Roskill, where one lamented losing his benefit. He said he was taken off the benefit and put in to a job, but two days later he was fired for not performing. I could tell the ordeal was a painful one, and the words that followed belies the frustration and agony, “they trick me to take the *&%@# job, they know I won’t last, and it was just to take my &^%$@# benefit; oh sorry cuz…but it ain’t &#$@* fair….’  And I agree, wholeheartedly, but not with the language! But that is not why I am confused about Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga’s comments; it’s the maths!

It has been estimated that we have about 160,000 people unemployed, and if 7,000 are taken (or forced) off the benefit into jobs every month, then in the next 22 months, no one will be unemployed. So, Spring Creek and Huntly East miners have nothing to worry about as they will be in employment in the blink of an eye. And that goes for all the people who are set to lose their jobs over the next few years, especially the 40 workers set to be axed from Nuplex in Onehunga and Penrose; and some 158 jobs cut by Kiwi Rail from its infrastructure and engineering divisions. The Kawerau Pulp and Paper Mill will halve production meaning job losses; and the Tiwai Point Aluminium smelter in Southland will cut about 100 jobs. There are also plans in the pipeline to cut at least 20 jobs at the Newmont Waihi Gold Company, and the job losses from ANZ Bank phasing out its National Bank brand will be a disaster for many families. But, no worries, according to National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga; 7,000 people are put “in to work every month.”

But, the many questions on every Pacific Islanders lips who are poor, without benefit, and out of a job, includes: If there are so many jobs available, why are we still without jobs? Where are the 4,800 new jobs Work and Income receive every month going to? Well, the only thing I see coming out of this attempt to downplay the government’s inability to rein in unemployment is another great Tui billboard – Yeah! Right. If we are really serious about cutting unemployment, especially among Pacific Islanders, then the government and those paid huge dollars to find solutions, need to heed the advice of Pacific Islands’ leaders and their communities.

Firstly, unemployment among Pacific Islanders will never be lowered if jobs being created do not match the skills and qualifications of those unemployed. There is a need to target specific areas of employment that contributes to New Zealand’s economy, and then target the unemployed to sign up to these specific areas, with the right motivation and motivators. I can hear the government jumping up and down saying that is what we are doing. Yes, but government efforts have failed, because the government agencies providing the incentives and resources to get people to be up skilled and qualified are the same ones trying to motivate the unemployed and potential unemployed to utilise  these incentives and resources. You cannot bake your cake and eat it. The government needs to provide the incentives and resources; but then entrust upon the Pacific Islands’ influential leaders and institutions to encourage their communities to exploit the incentives and resources being made available.

I am surprised that the government has not followed up the success of their TEC Pacific Trades Training Scholarships Initiative. The government made available this year 300 scholarships for Pacific Islanders to pursue skill education in Carpentry, Plumbing, Landscaping, and Electrician, to boost the country’s skill labour force; and one of the criteria was for all intending students to be nominated by their church Ministers.

MIT and UNITEC took over many of these scholarship students, and last Monday night at Mangere, an update on the initiative showed just how successful the scheme had been. It has worked wonders because Ministers of the various Pacific Islands churches have been committed in pushing their nominated students, especially when there is church, ethnic, and the Minister’s pride or mana at stake. Furthermore, students who had lived on unemployment benefit were now on scholarships (in way using their unemployment benefits to pay for their education), and have succeeded because of the close monitoring by their Minister Sponsors and co-operation with educators.

The huge presence of Pacific Islanders staff at MIT and UNITEC, have helped to orientate many of the first time Pacific Islands tertiary students into a more relax hands-on method of study. The government should continue this initiative as a way of getting Pacific Islanders out of the unemployment queues.

One of the speakers on Monday night, Stuart Lawrence from ETITO, caught my attention as he spoke with passion in raising the number of Maori and Pacific Islanders participation in skill education and apprenticeships, which at the moment, with the help of the TEC government scheme, the number of Maoris involved in apprenticeship is at 7% and Pacific Islanders is at 3%. There was a positive feeling among the Ministers, educators, and students, of further success if the TEC government scheme continues next year.

More Pacific Islanders will become more attuned to skill education as a possible afterlife to college education. Stuart Lawrence really believes in the scheme and suggests the only thing each student needs to bring is – GUTS: Genuine Urgency to Succeed.

The government needs GUTS to combat unemployment among Pacific Islanders by continuing to support the TEC Pacific Trades Training Scholarships scheme. Church Ministers and their Pacific Islands churches also need GUTS to support such beneficial government initiatives.

It has been said the churches have made Pacific Islanders poor; but I say the churches have being poor in their efforts to help Pacific Islanders to lift their standard of living and to reach their potentials. The churches can start with promoting skill education as a virtue alongside the traditional narrow-vision aspirations among our Pacific people to become lawyers, doctors, and accountants or don’t become anything at all.

It is time for church Ministers to preach a contextual theology that liberates our people from the bondage of narrow-vision and narrow minded attitude towards receiving an education from non-University institutions. Times have changed, and so have job opportunities. The white collar fraternity is overpopulated and has become a killing field for many aspiring graduates and job seekers.

On the other hand, the blue collar guild have jobs galore forecast but the number of people available is limited. As Jesus said: The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. As many of the educators on Monday night MIT-UNITEC meeting reiterated – it’s now up to us, not only to better ourselves but to help better our nation. And remember, continue to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…



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