Filipinos seeking work overseas often use immigration agencies in the Philippines, which for a fee arrange immigration papers, employment and airfares. Many come to New Zealand on temporary work visas that are renewed if they can arrange ongoing work. They hope that after gaining skills and a work record they can apply for permanent residence and ultimately citizenship.
From 1998 Filipino nurses began to arrive in growing numbers, but many were exploited by agents, who charged exorbitant fees and gave misleading information about New Zealand registration and employment. Often migrant nurses ended up as caregivers in rest homes, working long hours to pay back their agents. In addition, some employers offered lower wages and less favourable conditions than New Zealand-born nurses received. Awareness of this exploitation led to the establishment of support groups and improved information for Filipino nurses intending to come to New Zealand. In 2007 a ground-breaking agreement was reached between the Philippine government and the Counties Manukau District Health Board to recruit Filipino nurses directly, bypassing agencies. In 2015, of the 52,729 nurses practising in New Zealand, 3,688 indicated Filipino as their ethnicity, and 3,273 were trained in the Philippines. They represented around 9% of people with Filipino ethnicity in New Zealand.
In 2006 Filipino Sam Bruzo arrived to work in the dairy industry, but the cold weather, hard labour and isolation got to him: ‘[W]e need to have social interaction otherwise we will go crazy’.1 Collecting the phone number of every Filipino he met, he invited them to his birthday party, and other social occasions followed. These gatherings led to the formation of Filipino Dairy Workers in New Zealand (Inc) in 2007.
From 2006 increasing numbers of Filipino dairy workers were recruited to work in the dairy industry, which was going through a period of expansion and suffering from a serious skills shortage. The number of temporary work permits for Filipino dairy workers rose from 16 in 2003/4 (3% of all permits issued for dairy work) to 866 in 2010/11 (51% of the total). Many struck similar problems to Filipino nurses, being exploited both by immigration agents and employers. Some farmers paid less than the minimum wage and made their workers toil for long hours. Though prohibited by law, these breaches were difficult for inspectors to detect because of rural workers’ isolation. Filipinos in Canterbury responded to the problem by forming Filipino Dairy Workers in New Zealand (Inc), an advocacy organisation that aimed to overcome employment abuses by educating workers, upskilling them and providing support for them and their families.