New migrants change demography and work ethics

Priyanca RadhakrishnanInspiring engagement gratifies- Priyanca Radhakrishnan

On a Saturday morning, two weeks ago, more than 70 people from diverse ethnic communities came together in Auckland to find out more about the changing nature of work and workplaces in New Zealand and Labour Party’s plan to ensure that New Zealanders can confidently face these changes with sustainable, fulfilling and well-paid employment.

Attendees of the ‘Ethnic Communities and the Future of Work Seminar’ held on August 29, 2015 also heard from Professor Edwina Pio, New Zealand’s first Professor of Diversity on immigration, inclusion and ethnic communities; and Honey Rasalan, Manager of Migrant Action Trust who shared the employment experiences of new migrants.

Member of Parliament and Labour’s spokesperson for Ethnic Communities Phil Goff hosted the Seminar.

Skills mismatch

In his keynote address, Labour Leader Andrew Little outlined the need to ensure that our youth are equipped with skills and qualifications needed by businesses. He quoted a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers Survey saying that 73% of businesses were concerned about not being able to find the right mix of skills.

An Ernest &Young 2015 Report identified six megatrends that are defining what we do for work, and how we work. According to this report, megatrends are large, transformative global forces that define our future with far-reaching impacts on business, society, culture, economies and individuals.

Six megatrends

The six megatrends identified in the Ernest & Young report are our digital future (as technology disrupts business enterprise); entrepreneurship rising; global marketplace; rapid urbanisation; balancing economic development with environmental sustainability and reimagining our approach to healthcare (moving from the traditional delivery of health care to a primary prevention approach i.e. focusing on healthy behaviours to prevent illness from occurring rather than merely treating the illness).

Grant Robertson, Labour’s Finance spokesperson and Future of Work Commission Chair spoke on the need for a vision to ensure that unemployment is reduced, wages increased and New Zealanders have decent work and greater economic security.

Work Commission

Future of Work Commission is a novel two-year project that brings together Labour MPs and wider Party members, academic and sector collaborators and an external reference groups made up of some innovative thinkers from various relevant fields.

The Commission’s work is that it focuses not only on job creation, supporting innovation and leveraging the advantages of the changing nature of work but also on the changes needed in education and training.

It also recognises the potential for these changes to increase inequality and leave people behind as jobs become obsolete and work and income become less secure for many.

I believe it is this recognition of equity and economic success for all as drivers of innovation and success that makes Labour’s Future of Work Commission truly outstanding.

As Mr Robertson said, work (paid and unpaid) provides a sense of purpose.

While it is about economic security, it is also about having the security to live, to plan and to dream. It is undoubtedly a defining aspect of most of our lives.

When we recognise this, we can appreciate the need to ensure that our country is able to adapt to the changing nature of work such that all New Zealanders are afforded the security to live, to plan and to dream.

Changing immigration

Professor Pio’s presentation outlined how immigration was changing both the composition and the nature of the workforce. She urged organisations not to shy away from diversity issues.

She argued that the structures that view ethnic and religious diversity as a hindrance rather than an asset must be changed to permit dialogue and inclusion so as to create a strong diversity culture that result in a happier, more productive workforce.

Honey Rasalan, Manager of the Migrant Action Trust, a non-governmental organisation that provides support services to migrants and refugees outlined the reality experienced by many new migrants looking for work in New Zealand.

She shared the experiences of a number of new migrants who experienced barriers to employment as a result of policies and practices that do not promote inclusion.

Unrelated experience

She spoke about migrants who were looking for work in industries such as hospitality being required to have New Zealand work experience even though the jobs they were applying for were waitressing and dishwashing.

According to her, insistence on New Zealand experience for such work was perceived by many as an unnecessary barrier for new migrants looking for work.

“Migrants are in Catch 22 situation,” she said.

Students’ dilemma

She also talked about a number of issues facing international students who are led to believe that they can come to New Zealand, pursue a course and then get straight into the labour market. However, they face harsh realities and discover that the information they were given was inaccurate. Many of them struggle to survive, and some committed suicide.

Ms Rasalan questioned the ethics of treating international students as cash cows, and called for change. The structure is not working for many new migrants, and needs to be changed.

In support of social enterprise and entrepreneurship in the ethnic communities, the seminar lunch was delectable Afghani food catered by the WISE Collective, a social enterprise project enabling former refugee women to make money for their families using their skills and talents.

For further information about Labour’s Future of Work Commission, please visit or email Grant Robertson at

Please read our Editorial, “Are we prepared for the big bang migration?’ under Viewlink.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a strong advocate of ethnic and gender diversity in corporate governance and in public life. She is a Member of the Labour Party Policy Council and lives in Auckland. The above is a heavily edited version of a highly informative piece filed by her. If you attended the Seminar and would like to provide feedback, or suggest topics for future seminars, please contact Priyanca at or Mr Goff at

Photo Caption: Phil Goff speaking at Ethnic Communities and the Future of Work Seminar’

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