New Zealand: Luring or repelling Filipino nurses?

By Kimberly Jane T. Tan
Amid speculations that New Zealand is cutting down on foreign workers, the island country is still marketing itself to be a “choice” destination country for overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Currently, OFWs in New Zealand are faced with the alleged tightening of registration for foreign nurses, taking into account the country’s assumption that Filipino nurses are not “at par” with their standards.

New Zealand Nursing Council chief executive Carolyn Reed has even previously expressed concern that the rapid increase in nursing programs in the Philippines has compromised the quality of nursing, prompting them make the registration for overseas-trained nurses stricter.

But Filipino nurses in New Zealand have branded the Nursing Council’s new registration rules as “prejudicial” and “unfair,” saying that it reportedly forces them to settle for unskilled jobs with minimum wage even when hospitals there are supposedly facing an acute shortage of nurses.

The new requirements, which took effect early January, requires all overseas qualified nurses – including those from Britain and other English-speaking countries – to face a tough English language assessment.

The Nursing Council now reportedly requires a score of 7 in each band of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, higher than the current university entry requirement of 6.

However, the biggest problem for many Filipino nurses is the decision made by the council that those with nursing degree courses of less than four years will no longer be deemed eligible for employment in New Zealand.

Many Filipinos have taken nursing as their second course, shortening the time that they needed to complete it as they have already taken some subjects for a previous degree.

Fair assessment

Philippine Nurses Speak Out – a network of Filipino nurses and their advocates – has already started a campaign for the New Zealand Nursing Council to “recognize” the knowledge and skills of Filipino nurses.

It reportedly aims to unite Filipino nurses to speak out for their rights and build a “broad-based support” from the New Zealand public and concerned agencies in order to guarantee the rights of Filipino nurses to equal employment opportunities.

For its first project, the network set up an online petition where Filipino nurses can appeal for fair assessment from the council.

According to the statement posted on the site, many Filipino nurses were “dismayed” that many of them who took up nursing as second degrees have been rejected, despite some having served New Zealand’s health care industry “adeptly.”

“We note that some second coursers who applied before 2008 were approved by the NCNZ. Since 2008, second coursers who were declined are frustrated that their competence was questioned when they hold essentially the same qualifications as those whose applications were approved in the first quarter of 2008, 2007 and previous years,” it said.

The petitioners added that they do understand the council’s move to restrict the entry of Filipino nurses applying for work in New Zealand because they need to “protect” their local nurses amid the current economic crisis.

However, they still request that the council give consideration to Filipino nurses who have already gained relevant work experience in New Zealand and applied for registration before the changed in application process were made.

Moreover, the petition urged it to reconsider the registration of second coursers who graduated from schools that have a good track record in producing qualified nurses and that they offer training for these nurses currently in New Zealand as student nurses and consider the registration of those who are shown by this process to be competent to practice.”

On the other hand, supporters of the appeal of Filipino nurses may sign up for a separate online petition.

Training

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief Jennifer Manalili has already pushed for a more stringent screening and thorough training amid complaints made by Filipino nurses over New Zealand’s tougher policies.

“[We have a] problem of access to training facilities. We [also] have to adjust the [nursing] curriculum,” she said in a previous interview.

She said that this is important because sometimes receiving countries demand workers with more training or work experience.

“You want nurses hired to be familiar with the equipment,” she said, adding that countries like New Zealand and Australia have high standards for the kind of workers that they hire.

Moreover, she said that nothing can be done against such decisions made by other governments.

Manalili added that the move to make registration stricter might have been done to give priority to other local and foreign workers with better qualifications.

“Just like in the Philippines, you have to compete with other applicants,” said Manalili.

Liability

However, some recruiters have found the new rules to be a “liability” to New Zealand. 

Rodney Faulkner, director of A1 Care 24-7, which recruits foreign nurses for hospitals and district health boards in New Zealand, has said in a previous report that the new registration is “stupid and will just add to New Zealand’s loss.”

He said that there was “a huge miscarriage of justice” when a trained nurse he recruited was not considered “good enough” for their country, even with the recruit apparently holding a doctor’s degree in medicine and topping his university in the Philippines.

On the other hand, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) told GMANews.TV on Tuesday that it has yet to receive any formal announcement from the council itself regarding the matter.

Still a ‘choice” destination 

Despite hiring issues surrounding it, New Zealand is still positioning itself as a “choice” destination country for highly skilled OFWs. 

According to Philip Burdon, chairman of the Asia- New Zealand Foundation, “there is a rapidly expanding Asian population in New Zealand and the country is definitely opening up to more Asians.”

He said in a recent interview that 11 percent of New Zealand’s population is currently composed of Asians and that by the year 2026, 25 percent of its whole population would be Asians.

Data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas showed that there were about 23, 023 Filipinos in New Zealand in 2007 – which the POEA said was expected to have doubled last year. 

There was also a total of 362,014 Filipinos in Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Palau, and Papua New Guinea) – majority of whom (about 250,347) are living and working in Australia.

The POEA has said that it is expanding the market where OFWs can go to – including New Zealand – but added that majority of Filipinos still prefer to go to markets like the United Kingdom and the Middle East.

As compensation, Richard Grant, executive director of the Asia-New Zealand Foundation, said that foreign workers would have no problem integrating in New Zealand.

“We are a nation that is in transition, where so many of our young people are moving across New Zealand or outside of the country. So, immigrants and migrant workers can integrate well,” he said.

Burdon also said that New Zealand can be a good choice for OFWs who are in the health care, hospitality, information technology, accountancy, law, and agricultural industry.

“We have high standards and demanding criteria, but that is to ensure that the standards in the country are met,” he said.

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