Tongans split over language issue after workers dropped from pilot programme

    Tongan workers who applied to work in Christchurch have been rejected because of poor language skills, but callers to Radio Tonga  said being able to work hard was more important than being able to speak English.

    CEO of Internal Affairs ‘Ana Bing Fonua told Radio Tonga News that Tongan workers had been dropped from a pilot programme offering visas to 28 workers from the kingdom, Samoa and Fiji.

    Fonua said workers from all the Islands were dropped in the final stage of selection because they did not perform well in their English presentations.

    The workers had been expected to start work next May.

    The programme for Island workers is run by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Pacific Trust Canterbury and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. It is designed to help fill a skills shortage in Christchurch.

    The project is a trial intended to run for up to a year. It is part of PACER Plus, a trade and economic integration agreement between New Zealand and Pacific Island governments.

    It was expected that Island workers would also work towards a New Zealand qualification.

    Several callers to Radio Tonga’s Talk Back Show argued that the ability to speak and understand English was not important as Tongans were known for their hard working abilities skills.

    However, another caller who said he was working on a construction site in Auckland claimed most of his co-workers were Asians who were unable to speak or understand English.

    However, other callers said English was a key factor to gaining more job opportunities.

    Others said contractors did not have the time or money to carry out special training for temporary workers.

    Being able to converse and write well in English was important so workers could not be cheated by their employer.

    “Once you’re picked to work overseas you have to understand your work contract, safety signs and other important issues which are all in English at the workplace,” a caller said.

    A report by the Labour and Immigration Research Centre, In Harm’s Way, said language barriers were a major factor in workplace injuries, safety and education.

    Work visas

    The New Zealand government lists criteria for general short term work visas online. These include essential skills needed for Canterbury and the Christchurch reconstruction programme.

    The website says applicants must be aged 55 or under, and meet English language, health, and character requirements.

    • How important are English language skills for seasonal workers and short term skilled visa workers in New Zealand? Kaniva News would like to hear about your experiences and welcome your views.

    The main points

    • Tongan workers selected for a pilot project bringing Island workers to Christchurch have been cut from the  programme because of poor language skills.
    • CEO of Internal Affairs ‘Ana Bing Fonua told Radio Tonga News that Tongan workers had been dropped from a programme offering visas to 28 workers from the kingdom, Samoa and Fiji.
    • Some callers to Radio Tonga said being able to work hard was more important than being able to speak English.
    • However, others said workers needed to be able to read safety signs and their contracts.

    For more information

    Trained Pacific workers join the Christchurch rebuild

    Fears standards will suffer as thousands of extra NZ apprentices trained

    In Harm’s way

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