14 Aug 2017

Meet the Filipino workers who are helping to rebuild Christchurch

From Christchurch Dilemmas, 6:00 am on 14 August 2017

Most days Richard Navales comes home from work and calls his wife and three sons.

They are thousands of kilometres apart, he in Christchurch and his family in the Philippines, and it could be up to two years before they are reunited.

Richard is a pipefitter working on the site of the new health precinct. He’s one of more than 3000 Filipinos who this year were granted temporary work visas in Christchurch.

Lisa Burdes, skilled migrant advisor for the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, says there are 103 million Filipinos in the world and 10 million work overseas.

“We look at these guys and say how could they leave their families, often very young children, for years on end? If you look at what they’re sacrificing there’s a good reason for it. They want their children to go to Catholic schools in the Philippines and they cost a lot. The equivalent of what they would earn here is huge.”

One worker told Christchurch Dilemmas he was earning 300 pesos a day in Manila, and is now on the equivalent of 6000 pesos a day in Christchurch.

Richard Navales says he sends between $300-400 home to his family each week.

When Christchurch Dilemmas filmed with Richard and 6 of his co-workers, they were paying $160 each to live in shared quarters. Their rent included power and wi-fi.

Burdes says the Chamber of Commerce has seen "a few shocking landlords".

"The Filipinos don’t mind living with a lot of them in a house, which goes against some of our tenancy rules, so they were open to exploitation.”

There were also some “bad employers, but we were onto that”.

Richard says he has a “good boss”, but admits language is a barrier. “Some language not understand, but we have sign language.”

Many of the Filipinos working on the rebuild have a long term goal - to bring their families here to live permanently. 

Over 1000 Filipinos have already gained residency.

Burdes says some Christchurch schools are “close to a third migrant now".

"It’s the big, golden ticket, coming to New Zealand.”