Wei Yuen Loo: Even NZ-born Chinese find job doors closed
Tuesday October 3, 2006
As a New Zealand-born Chinese who worked as a civil engineer in Hong Kong for many years and is now back home, I can confirm from personal experience that there is indeed discrimination by NZ employers against those with non Anglo-Saxon names - especially Asian names - and those who do not happen to have "Kiwi" experience.
If you happen to fall into both categories your chances of finding meaningful employment in your chosen profession start to get pretty slim.
I have Kiwi-born friends of Chinese descent who refuse to waste their time trying to further their careers in this country, mainly because they know of the difficulties they face in securing a position commensurate with their qualifications and talents.
Many consider Australians to have a far more fair and open attitude, and now some of these people have good positions in Australian companies, positions that they would never have been able to achieve in NZ unless they worked in the public sector.
Herald guest columnist Mark Berghan accuses immigrant businesses of refusing to hire Pakeha or Maori. This is a rather spurious argument. Many of these businesses are entirely family-run affairs and some are niche market businesses set up to meet the needs of foreign-language clientele and recent immigrants.
Thus you have Mandarin-speaking travel agencies, Cantonese restaurants and Hindi video shops. There would be very few native born Kiwis of any ethnic extraction who would be suitable for employment in such places.
As for Mr Berghan's time in Japan, all I can say is that as a Caucasian he would certainly have an easier time finding a job there than I would - again from personal experience. And I'm certain that he did not have to provide evidence of "Japanese experience" prior to the interview stage.
He should know that in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai and Brunei you will see many New Zealand, Australian, English and American professionals doing very well, in charge of local staff or in high management. Most have zero command, the rest only a rudimentary command, of the local language.
Of course this is because English is virtually an international language, definitely the language of business, but my point is that so-called 'cultural context' is not nearly as important as Mr Berghan would have you believe.
The technical professions such as engineering, IT, and accounting should know no borders. That is why you find New Zealand geologists working in Hong Kong and German foundation engineers in Singapore. Indian hospitality workers find their skills highly valued in Dubai. And American companies go to India to poach Indian IT and business graduates - the same type of people who here in New Zealand would have to resort to driving taxis to make ends meet.
So just why is NZ so different? Is it really prejudice - or does this country really have a unique set of cultural values and norms that immigrants, and even native born non-whites such as myself, will never be able to understand and appreciate - thus rendering us useless for anything apart from driving taxis and cooking fish and chips?
* Wei Yuen Loo is a lecturer at Unitec in Auckland