NYEMUDZAI ESTHER NGOCHA-CHADEROPA shares the stories of four Indian nurses working as caregivers in New Zealand residential aged care facilities. Their experiences – at times distressing – differ significantly from their expectations of life and work in New Zealand.

It is really a privilege to teach the newbies as they start their journey in New Zealand as postgraduate students, but it is the first statement in their introductions that catches my attention: ‘Hi, I am so-and-so from the Philippines/India and I am a registered nurse.’ They always start with who they are in terms of occupation before they talk about their families or why they are here. This shows how much they respect their nursing qualifications. Usually almost three-quarters of the class is made up of registered nurses from overseas.

Fast forward a few months in and most of these students get jobs in the ARC sector as caregivers –  the beginning of their dream coming true. The many stories in the media in recent months about immigrant labour made me consider conducting an inquiry into the expectations before coming here and the experiences, now that they are here, of these nurses. This study was conducted in Rotorua through interviews with eight caregivers, comprising four Indian (three females and one male) and four Filipina (all female) caregivers with nursing backgrounds. In this article I focus on the responses from the Indian employees.

Manpreet’s story

“I thought New Zealand was like what we see in movies, all green and peaceful,” Manpreet told me.

Manpreet was looking forward to coming to New Zealand to study and work. He had applied to come and study as a way of getting into New Zealand and after completing his studies, he had hoped to work as a nurse in New Zealand hospitals.

His first experiences were not so good and he recalled at one time wanting to go back home. Manpreet had lived in a suburb that he described as rough and told me that he and his friends had been taken advantage of a lot of time. One incident he described was a local person who leaped into their car and demanded they drive him to some party or else he was going to make them suffer. He said he has had to move after a series of similar incidents.

“We felt helpless and bullied by these local people. Sometimes they demanded we cook curry for them; we ended up locking ourselves in the house so that they would not bother us before we moved to another place.”

At work he was happy with his manager mostly, because she had promised to support his visa for permanent residence. However, he mentioned two things he was not happy with. One was residents refusing to receive care from him, as exemplified by an incident when an elderly man told him, “I am not comfortable being showered by a guy”. He was subsequently surprised when a male Kiwi caregiver confessed that he always showered the resident without any problems.

“This was the first time l looked at myself differently, not on the basis of how I did my job and treated residents, but at my colour,” he said.

 Manpreet is a dark-coloured Indian man who is very softly spoken. He had worked as a nurse for two years back in India and considered his knowledge valid for the job he was doing. He said he would love to be treated with respect.

The second thing he wasn’t happy with was how he felt that Filipinos had an upper hand when it came to work favours.

“If a facility is looking for four caregivers and three Filipinos and five Indians apply, the jobs will be offered to the three Filipinos and the remaining one will be offered to an Indian,” he said, by way of example.

He felt there was a lot of bias when it came to Indians and Filipino caregivers.

“Filipinos are good at talking about the job and Indians are good at doing the job,” he smiled.

He said because of his upbringing he did not say anything to the manager because he did not want to cause any problems that would stop his manager from supporting his permanent residency.

The last question I asked him was, if he knew then what he knows now, would he have come to New Zealand? He paused and said, “No, I have suffered a lot and my parents have paid a lot of money for this adventure. I am single and life is hard without someone to share your troubles with.”

He then revealed with a grin that his parents had found a girl for him to marry and he intended to return home in a month to his wedding ceremony. He is now working and raising money to enroll for his capping programme, which will see him become a New Zealand registered nurse – something that has always been his dream.

Surpreet’s story

“New Zealand is the land of milk and honey and greener than other green pastures,” said Surpreet.

 She had anger in her voice because she said this is what they were made to believe by their agencies back in India. But then she quickly changed her tone and said, “Don’t get me wrong, the people are lovely and the culture is very welcoming.”

Surpreet is an outgoing young Indian girl who had worked as a nurse for six years back home. She was studying and also working as a caregiver. She mentioned how she enjoyed shopping as a way of dealing with stress and how much she missed going out at night to shop and enjoy city life. She said that Rotorua was dead at night.

“I remember the first days when I got here noticing that around 5pm people are already indoors. It is not safe to walk at night because we have been attacked twice.” She moved forward and whispered, “How can this happen in a country like this, aye? We had our groceries taken away from us by local guys ‘cos they said they didn’t have food to eat. I am a student and working only 20 hours a week – where do you think I get the money from?”

 Her experience as a caregiver had been filled with joy and tribulations. The joy came from the lovely ladies and gentlemen for whom she cared. “Some of them remind me of my grandparents – oh my gosh, one of the ladies I care for always hugs me and gives me kisses. This makes me feel appreciated by those I care for.”

 She was not entirely happy with the other caregivers (Indians mostly), however, who were always talking about her outgoing lifestyle behind her back. She felt judged by people she hardly knew and said they made her life miserable at work. She said there was a lot of jealousy among people of the same nationality at work, especially about the number of shifts, how well one related with the residents and whether one was doing well in their studies.

“If I had known that it was going to be this hard to get a job as a nurse here, I would not have come. I miss my parents and my former co-workers back home. I had a better life back home. I didn’t have to work so hard to get |basic stuff. The problem with people here is that they label all of us with the same brush – ‘Ohh they are here because they were struggling in their home countries’ – and that is not always the truth.”

 Surpreet is still working as a caregiver and hoping that her manager will support her permanent visa after her job search visa expires.

Amandeep’s story

Amandeep worked in Delhi as a nurse for two years before looking for a better life overseas.

“New Zealand was not my first preference. I wanted to go to Canada, but it was a bit expensive. The life here is laid back and I come from Delhi where people dress well and look really good. I thought this was going to be better than that, but living here for a year now I have noticed people can go to town in their pyjamas.”

She had been told by her agent that in New Zealand she had to study and work, which was different from where she came from. “I was prepared for the worst and I am happy being here.”

The first problem she experienced was renting and then finding a job to sustain herself.

“Renting was a problem since we had to work for accommodation. I was staying at this motel where the owner offered accommodation and we had to work 30 hours a week for that.” This was hard for her and her friends since they needed money to buy food and to send back home to their families. They ended up leaving this motel and looking for accommodation elsewhere.

“I always cried myself to sleep since this was a new country and the experience was not
good at all.”

She was happy there was a great Indian network ready to give her support, but due to studies and work she did not have time to go to Indian celebrations.

“My employer is really good and I love what I am doing – helping other people. I hope she is going to support my work visa after my studies.”

She seemed to be happy to have a job, since she said some of her friends were still looking for care work.

“I went to the rest home that I am working for now to drop off my CV and they interviewed me that same day because they had a shortage of caregivers.”

Rotorua has received a lot of international students in the past five years and most of them have a nursing background. This has caused a shortage of jobs since these students are looking for any job that can provide them with enough money to survive.

“At work, my residents love me. The only thing that I miss is being in a position where I can make decisions as a nurse. I am always reminded that I am not a registered nurse here when the residents ask to see a real nurse”.

She ended by saying although New Zealand was not her first preference she did not regret coming here. She now loves going to the beach, taking long drives and gazing at the scenery – all of which is really good and is peaceful and different from being in the city.

Gupinder’s story

Gupinder chose to come to New Zealand because a friend of hers had told her that it was a great country. She had very high expectations for New Zealand and was disappointed when she got here. She had come as a student and was now on a job search visa and working as a care worker. She was not happy with her job.

“The main issue is the job itself. I have the qualifications and experience to do my job [as a nurse] here in New Zealand but I can’t get it. It is degrading to do the sort of job that I feel I am over-qualified to do. Not that I am looking down on the job, but I feel I should not be doing a job that does not require any qualifications.”

 She mentioned how hard it was for her to watch other nurses do what she called “my job”. She also revealed how she felt about people using generalisations about Indians, for example being called ‘liars’.

She felt like she had to work extra hard to convince people that she was different, and she was also unhappy with her pay.

“I get minimum wage and only work 20 hours a week. They said I didn’t have New Zealand experience, but people are people. The way we treat people is the same the world over.”

She went on to explain how she felt like she was being used by the care facility as they gave her a minimum pay rate but at the same time went to her for her nursing knowledge.

“If I could turn back time, I would still be working back home and enjoying life without thinking about what other people think about me so the answer is, no, if I knew about these experiences I would not have come.”

What I have learned from this study

From the stories above, the main issue that was brought to my attention is managers’ support for permanent visas. As long as their managers supported their visas, the caregivers were happy. The focus was not on their experiences at work but their futures in New Zealand.

There were also some cases of bullying, racism and discrimination from residents, other caregivers and the community.

From a management perspective, employees’ experiences must not be ignored. Adverse work experiences should be resolved because if they remain unresolved they will eventually affect the delivery of care.

A study by Ravenswood in 2011 investigated the relationship between employee participation, productivity and employee wellbeing in the aged care sector and found that it is very important that  employees feel valued by the company they work for.

These registered nurses are generally happy to be in New Zealand and even though they are going through challenges they still continue to deliver quality care because they feel called upon to help others and want to be accepted as part of the community.

About the author: Nyemudzai Esther Ngocha-Chaderopa is a lecturer at Waiariki Bay of Plenty Polytechnic and a PhD candidate at the University of Otago. She is investigating the work experiences of native-born and migrant care workers in the New Zealand aged residential care sector.

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