Filipino Caregivers

Yesterday there was considerable interest in the fact that Filipino caregivers, who have been working in care facilities here in Christchurch, have been denied work visas and in some cases sent letters telling them they are ‘overstayers’. This has been profiled in The Press and also in an interview with Kathryn Ryan on the National Programme on Tuesday morning.

After thinking for hours today on how I’d like to approach this on the Gazette I keep asking myself – What’s the real issue here? And it seemed to come back to this – Who wants to look after our older people?

It would seem that in an ideal world, we’d all want to look after our ‘own’. But this assumes so much, like the fact that we would live nearby, still be on speaking terms with them, not have a job, not be disabled ourselves, that we (the caregiver) would have good supports for us as well, that we had low levels of debt to service, that we weren’t already volunteering elsewhere, that our family member actually wanted us to care for them…the list is endless. The fact is that for some of us we choose to be cared for elsewhere or to assist our loved ones to enter care if (for any multitude of excellent reasons) that’s the best option. But the real question here is IF we cannot care for our older folk, who will. Ever since I have been in this sector I have heard of staffing shortages – yes, it’s varied from junior caregivers right through to Registered Nurses, but the theme has always been that Aged Care is hard to staff for two basic reasons – it’s underfunded and it’s not sexy. When you consider that some workers in a rest home will be on the minimum wage to do some of the most personal cares for someone (wipe their behind after toileting, shower and dress them) and to spend moments of their day involved in the same old, same old discussions, to be sometimes yelled at, and treated violently, to have to display patience and caring to people who are sometimes ungrateful, or overly grateful, it’s not surprising that many people (regardless of their nationality) will say “no thanks!” and choose to work elsewhere (supermarkets, petrol stations etc).

What’s also clear to me is that this is not just about entry level roles. It’s about people who have experience in this industry; people who are skilled at what they do. Caregiving is a job that many people grow into; there is so much on the job training, both recognised and informal – how can we assume that any ‘kiwi’ who applies it the right person, with the right skills for this job. Would we let any old ‘Joe Blow’ work in a childcare centre looking after our young ones? Then why do we assume that anyone straight off the street is suitable for the work that is required in a caregiving role? If Kiwis want to look after our old people then that is great.

However; having heard from the industry time and time again, I know there are few kiwis applying for these roles. So often it is the ‘new kiwis’ or immigrant work force who are keen to work incredibly hard for a minimal financial reward. Which sort of leads me to my next point – why is this an ‘us and them’ debate? This makes me so sad. I fear for the future of NZ if we cannot see ourselves as New Zealanders, working together to support each other – with the ‘bubble’ of Baby Boomers approaching and all the hype over who will care for them surely we can see that if we support and encourage those who wish to care for our older people that we will be able to create a culture (and perhaps even effect change in the industry!) that encourages everyone to work in a field they’re passionate about so we attack the best people to this sector – regardless of their place of birth.

The comments section of The Press article makes for interesting reading – points being made from all aspects of the argument. I hope that on the Gazette we will also be able to speak about this – perhaps some of the commenters will be better placed to comment than I am – this is a forum for the industry, so please share your views. I’d love to hear what you think and how we can address these issues both now and in the future.

About Esther Perriam

Esther Perriam
Esther Perriam is a Director of Eldernet. She’s worked in the business for over 15 years and has been lucky to visit many of the older person’s services around the country. She’s never short of an opinion on…pretty much anything. Esther really loves reading and you’ll see plenty of book reviews authored by her. As a mother of two children there’s not much free time but if there is she also enjoys cooking (for grown-ups, not the kids!) and anything beach related in her spare time. Esther has presented at conferences around New Zealand and is happy to be contacted in regards to speaking or presenting at your event.