The community of the ‘grass and ants’

Tuifaasisina with the 'ants and grass' community at the entrance to parliament. They are protesting proposed amendments to Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act.

Tuifaasisina with the ‘ants and grass’ community at the entrance to parliament. They are protesting proposed amendments to Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act.

5 May 2013 – The Social Housing Reform (Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Amendment Bill) bill was been referred to the select committee level in May 2013.

The Bill allows private sector groups in some cases to replace Housing New Zealand as providers of social housing, and it is being pushed through as a bill under urgency.

Only one Pacific islander, Tuifa’asisina Meaole Keil, turned up to make an oral submission to the select committee.

He based his submission on an old African proverb, “When elephants make love and war, it’s the grass and ants that suffer”.

The Select Committee is chaired by Pacific member of parliament Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. And Tuifa’asisina was hopeful of appealing to his Pacific kinsman about the plight of Pacific islanders that is underscored by the crisis in the housing sector.

However, both Pacific MPs, Peseta Sam Lotu I’iga and Alfred Ngaro excused themselves before Tuifa’asisina’s turn. The chairmanship was handed to Hon Tony Ryall, while Pacific MP, Fiji’s Dr Rajen Prasad decided to stay and listen to the ‘grass and ants’ submission.

Following is Tuifa’asisina’s full submission to the committee.

SUBMISSION

There is an old African proverb that says, “When elephants make love and war, it’s the grass and ants that suffer”.

I sit here as a grass and as an ant, the primary and lowest part of the food chain. And where I work it’s amongst cleaners, security guards, the lowest and most vulnerable and precarious employees of this country. When I read the urgency, for our people, the Pacific Islanders, this [Housing crisis] is not a disaster that just boomed like a tsunami or an earthquake. We saw this coming in the 1990s.

We had a whole generation that grew up in garages and now you’re trying to solve it and rush it through urgency. And we say thank you, don’t misunderstand us, we thank you.

But we just want you to look at where the ants and grass are looking at, up to where the elephants are and for you to see what’s happening in our world and how we’re seeing it.

This is what I’m here for.

We thank you for all the good planning and so forth, but I want you to look at the word ‘affordable social housing’.

It is quite a contradiction to us when it comes to affordable social housing – because it’s affordable for who?

Affordable for the government to pay?

Affordable for the government to pay out $2.2billion a year in accommodation supplement just to keep us in a rotten home, flat, a leaky building that make us sick and that?

And then we can’t go to school, and so we pile up on your medical bill.

And now, to add insult, and I know this because I work with them every day, I live amongst them, and so to add insult, there is dilution of their employment rights going through parliament right now.

Now picture this from a cleaner or security worker.  They will always be on minimum wage, they will not have job security, they will never be given a mortgage, so where is this ‘affordable social housing’ coming from? And then their minimum wages are supplemented by benefits but then they get bashed in the media and that as welfare bludgers.

We get it both ways.

This is the world of the grass and the ants. The world that gets trampled in this. And so we’re begging you, if you’re going to do this seriously with all the rush and urgency, we pray that you will do the right thing by us this time.

But remember, we can’t buy a home if we don’t have job security, or a Living Wage to go with it because no bank will give us a mortgage.

And if the government is more prepared to pay out more than $2.2billion in accommodation supplement, then where do the grass and the ants fit in this affordable housing bit?

Social housing is a word that hides the true meaning of marginalizing us low income Pacific islanders.

The government says it will build us affordable houses on the outskirts of town. That is great, but then that does not take into account the costs of transport to work.

For a cleaner on minimum wage, numbers say it’s about $16 a day to travel to and from work. That’s one and a half hours of cleaning every night just to pay for getting to work and back. That’s before factoring in food, rent, kids schooling, their lunches, and what have you.

Then there’s the cost of electricity, and petrol tax increasing every year. And what about rates if I managed to own a home.

Will there be schools, or hospitals in our neighborhoods, or do we have to travel miles to get there. Imagine if I get called to school that my child is sick or for parent teacher evenings? It’s not that we don’t want to participate, we would love to but for us the grass the ants of today, we’re just so damned busy working just to survive from day to day.

This is us, the grass and ants and the world we live.

You see, we are the people that are perpetually put up from cradle to grave to live inside state housing, a burden to this country and yet we clean your rubbish, we protect your buildings, we do everything that most of you don’t do, cut your asparagus, pick your apples just about do everything.

But to own a home – lo and behold, is that too much to ask?

Is that too much to ask from an ant in this society?

You may look and say, eeekkk, a cleaner, but that’s the world we live in.

We are sick and tired of cartoons, have you ever thought about how we, who are the butt of these jokes feel about that?

This is why I’m here today, ‘affordable housing’.

Please make it real by giving us a real job, one that is secure and permanent.

Give us a Living Wage so we don’t have it subsidized by a government benefit.

We are not scared to work, far from it.

We do not want the benefit.

Do not demean our lives by having us sustain our lives on the benefit. We don’t like it either because it’s a humiliating experience.

When there are jobs we work and unemployment came down.

And when there are jobs available, thousands of us line-up.

We want to work, and we do the hard work.

So how about it? We can captain your All Blacks, your Black Caps, Silver Ferns, do everything for this country, win you gold medals, win world cups, but to own a home, it’s not possible.

That is why I’m here, for affordable housing.

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