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Kiwi Hero: Jazmine Heka

15 January 2012 5 comments

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or,  good women!

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One thing that I find about writing this Blog, is reporting on all the unpleasant things that are happening in our country; our communities; at this very moment. Whether it’s high unemployment; pollution in our rivers and coastline; constant attacks on welfare beneficiaries; racism; cutbacks in our social services; the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor; a rather nasty anti-union campaign on Auckland’s waterfront… after a while, I can fully understand why 100,000 of my fellow New Zealanders shipped off to Australia.

Half the time I wonder why I’m still here.

Nah, I ain’t going anywhere. It’s too hot over there; they have snakes; crocodiles; spiders the size of a small car; dinosaurs, mutant kangaroos, and god knows what else. Plus, they speak funny. (It’d take too long to teach our Aussie cuzzies  how to speak proper English – like we Kiwis do.)

Anyway, every so often, there is a ray of sunshine that pokes through the gloom of bad  news. Like this one, the story of Ms Jazmine Heka. She’s 16 years old. And she has more compassion and wisdom than half the adult population in this country. She certainly shows greater awareness than our current batch of political leaders.

Because Jazmine Heka, at age 16, and when other young women her age are out flirting with post-adolescent boys with acne and over-powered cars, is different.

Jazmine Heka cares.

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Full Story

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Full Story

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Jazmine watched Bryan Bruce’s document, Inside Child Poverty – and came away disgusted; angry; and confused as to how something like this could be happening in our own country. And well she might; New Zealand was supposedly a wealthy country with an abundance of food and resources.

What has gone so terribly wrong?

Jazmine’s response to the documentary was perfectly normal. Any sane, compassionate,  person would have viewed Bruce’s documentary about our crisis in poverty, with similar feelings of outrage and disgust.

Those that viewed it – and simply shrugged it off  – did so because they have become inured to life’s hardships and uncertainties. For many of us, poverty and other social ills have become a normal aspect to everyday life. For many well-off, middle-class folk, poverty is “somewhere over there” and “beyond our ability to deal with“.

For many of us, we have “normalised” poverty; inequality; poor housing; lack of food; lack of adequate incomes; and lack of hope.

Those living in poverty live the same “train wreck” of their lives; day-after-day; week-after-week; their families; their community – and no hope of ever getting out. For these families, a life of poverty is also “normalised“.It’s all they’ve had and all they are likely to ever have.

Meanwhile,  products and images of products of a wealthy, consumerist society is all around these poverty-trapped families.

Eventually, those who suffer such hardship cannot cope any further with the constant stresses,  of their dismal lives. Some cease to care. Others lose themselves in anger, fueled by cheap, plentiful alcohol and drugs. Brutalised beyond any measure of comprehension by Middle New Zealand, they commit acts of self-harm and violence to others that the rest of us find inexplicable.

Try to explain to Middle New Zealand why a bunch of young people would torment an infant until it died from it’s injuries and internal bleeding – and you’d get a blank look.

Or, most likely, it is blamed upon the parent(s) and immediate family for abusing to death their child. Only then do we, as a society,  take an interest in that family, as they are put through the Court system; paraded on our television “news” each night; and we shake our collective heads in dismay and wonder what kind of “animal” kills it’s own young.

A stressed, abused, mal-treated “animal” – that’s what kind.

When things go terribly bad in poverty-stressed families, it is not the start of a crisis – it is the end-result; a culmination, of years of living in squalid conditions that few of us have ever experienced.

That is poverty. Or, at least, a visible part of it.

Most families, of course, don’t end up killing or bashing their children. As Jazmine quoted, 22% of children in New Zealand live in poverty. And most families do the best they can, with limited money, and constant demands for that money; rent, electricity, food, medical bills, school costs, transport…

Most families  survive. Even our Prime Minister grew up as a child to a solo-mother in  State House. Of course,  John Key not only had a state house over his head, but had the benefit of a free, tax-payer funded tertiary education.

That’s right folks. Mr Key went to University prior to 1992, before student fees were introduced. He may even have had access to a student allowanvce that was commonly accessible those  days. And his mother didn’t have to pay for prescription medicines – those were free, before Rogernomics came into play.

State house. Free education. Free prescription medicines.

That was all replaced with User Pays. National sold off about 13,000 state houses in the 1990s. And medical care became more and more expensive.

At the same time, taxes were cut seven times since 1986; gst was introduced; and User Pays and higher government charges made living more and more expensive for those on low incomes.

As the economy was de-regulated in the late 1980s, factories that had once employed locals to produce locally made goods closed down – and instead we had them produced and imported from China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Fiji, and other low-wage economies.

That’s called “exporting jobs”.

In return, we got cheap shoes from China – and growing poverty in New Zealand. Most unfair of all, it is children growing up in poor families that bear the brunt of our 27 year old free market economy.

Though that’s not to say there haven’t been success stories. For a few, anyway,

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It’s not hard to see who benefitted most from seven tax cuts in the last 26 years.

In turn, Fonterra plans to re-introduce milk in low-decile schools – something not seen in New Zealand since 1967. A return to school milk seems indicative where we have arrived as a nation: full circle since 1937, when free milk was first introduced in schools throughout the country to fight poverty’s effects on children.

And here we are – back again.

Even National was promising something similar,  in  February 2007, when John Key was Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps this was a political “stunt” – who knows,

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Full Story

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But it’s even more of a harsh reality now.

I’ve even emailed John Key, to ascertain what happened, to his “Food in Schools” programme,

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from:    [email]
to:    Prime Minister John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:    Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 9:16 AM
subject:    National launches its Food in Schools programme

Sir,

On 4 February 2007, you released a Press Release headed, “National launches its Food in Schools programme”.

As outlined in Bryan Bruce’s document, “Child Poverty”, there is a growing problem of poorly fed, malnourished children in NZ.  Could you please advise what progress your government has made in the area of providing meals for children in low-decile schools?

This issue is a critical one. Poorly fed children do not do well in the classroom, and this results in difficulties further along in their lives, including social dislocation; poor education;  unemployment; and more expensive interaction with government services.

Thankyou for your time,

-Frank Macskasy
 Blogger, “Frankly Speaking

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I’ve received an acknowledgement and that the email was passed on to Education Minister Hekia Parata. But nothing further.

This, to me, is why it is so important that good men and women like Bryan Bruce, Jazmine Heka, KidscanChild Poverty Action Group, etc,  raise our consciousness on these matters. These problems will not go away by themselves. They must be resolved with planning, determination, and  money.

But more importantly, Bryan Bruce and Jazmine Heka need our collective voices to aid them, and to back them up. Bryan and Jazmine and many others are working to fix a problem that should never have been allowed to grow and fester. But it’s here now, and we have to deal with it.

As Judy Callingham wrote on Brian Edwards’ blog,

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The government has prioritised a number of policies to stimulate the economy in an effort to get us out of the current recession. None of these policies, to my mind, tackles head-on the most urgent task of all – eliminating ‘child poverty’.

This should be the number one priority. Nothing is more important. Nothing is going to stimulate the economy better in the long run than having our kids grow up healthy and well educated.  It’s a damn sight more important than ultra-fast broadband and super-highways.”

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Or Jacqui, a mother in Otangarei,

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I think it’s amazing what you’re doing. A lot of our people are disheartened, they’ve given up. The standard of living of people in New Zealand is shocking, people are struggling. It’s something the government needed to address a long time ago. If adults say it they think we’re just complaining, or it’s our own inadequacies. Her voice will get through, that’s the cool thing.

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Last year, the combined raised voices of Wellingtonians stopped the Wellington Airport from erecting a silly sign on the Miramar hillside. (Instead, they erected a marginally less-silly sign.)

And the year before that, in 2010, the collective anger of New Zealanders stopped the National government dead-in-its-tracks to mine on Schedule 4 Conservation lands.

I believe that with the same support for Bryan, Jazmine, and other community groups fighting poverty, that this government can be made to pay attention to this problem.

I believe that, acting together, there is no reason  why we cannot achieve our common goal of beginning to solve this growing crisis in our communities. None whatsoever.

So let’s help Jazmine to help New Zealand.

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Additional

National launches its Food in Schools programme (4 February 2007)

Milk and Honey off the menu

Jazmine Heka – Hero of the Week

Radio NZ: Teenage child poverty activist (31 January 2012)

Contact Jazmine

Email: childrenagainstpoverty@hotmail.co.nz

Facebook: Children-Against-Poverty

Snailmail: PO Box 585, Whangarei 0140.

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Why wharfies are striking – in their own words (+ photos)

Simon Oosterman

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Articles and photos by Simon Oosterman. Hi-res photos are available here. Please feel free to distribute.

The media have given plenty of space to Ports of Auckland management, but nobody has canvassed the opinions of those most affected by the company’s decisions, the workers. Here we get behind the news to the men, their wives and the children affected by the Ports of Auckland actions and proposals.

For the background to the dispute read the Maritime Union of New Zealand and Council of Trade Union fact sheet and the Port of Auckland’s industrial dispute updates.

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The Thorton family: “They want drones when we are actually parents”

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FAIR ROSTERING: From the left – Max Thorton (5), Shaun (43), Nina (4), Amy (5), Leah (37) and Ben (9). Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Shaun Thorton, 43, drives a straddle at the Ports of Auckland where he has worked for 18 years. He met his wife Leah at the port where she worked before becoming a fulltime mum looking after their four kids: Ben (9), twins Max and Amy (5) and Nina (4).

“We want predictability so we can have a family life,” he says. “We only get one weekend off every third weekend meaning I work 35 weekends in the year. I’m striking for the kids.”

Leah interrupts: “and for the marriage”.

“Shaun’s work is a nightmare for me and the kids,” she says. “Dad only went to two soccer games last year and couldn’t come to the preschool Christmas party. We’ve learnt to live with it but it’s far from perfect.”

“It’s clear from the ports casualisation plan that they want drones, when we are actually parents. You can’t sustain a family as a casual and deal with the everyday stuff parents have to put up with. One of our kids has a chronic illness and another is getting progressively deaf in one ear. I should be able to count on partner to help out with hospital visits and specialist’s visits.

“Everyone complains about irresponsible teenagers going out on town and they wonder where their parents are. They are hereThe Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too” and in other unsociable jobs. The only other option to this work is working on the minimum wage.

“It astounds me that they are trying to increase productivity by ruining our work life balance – do they want people sleeping on the job?” she says. “Can I complain to the company about not having annual leave or sick days?”

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The Wallace family: “It’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too”

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FAMILY TIME: From centre left – Mark Wallace, Ashley (9), Rebecca (7) and Katrina. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Mark Wallace is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He worked his way up from a casual to a permanent crane driver over 18 years. Mark and wife Katrina have two children, Ashley (9) and Rebecca (7).

“I’m trying to protect my family life,” he says. “The company wants the right to tell me at midnight, eight hours before a shift, that I don’t have the shift anymore. How can I plan a family life around that?”

“The company goes on about caring for its employees, but they treat us like shit. We’ve given them the best container rates ever. If they really cared about us, we’d be inside working. We had to strike at Christmas just to get time off with our kids.”

Katrina, is a self-employed dress-maker who works from home.

“I brought the kids down to the picket show solidarity with my husband,” she says. “But it’s not just husbands affected, it’s our families too. The company’s proposed changes would be hard for me and the kids. I couldn’t take on huge jobs because I wouldn’t know day-to-day what Mark would be doing. I wouldn’t even be able to count on him to pick up the kids from school.”

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The Witehira family: “Keeping family time is more important than a pay rise”

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POWER TO THE FAMILY: Jermaine Witehira (31), Jayda (1), Karine (2), Gabrielle (5) and Destiny. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Jermaine Witehira, 31, got his first ever job at the Ports of Auckland where he has been working as a stevedore for 14 years. Jermaine and wife Destiny have three children, Gabrielle (5), Karine (2) and Jayda (1)

“I’m doing this for my family and my mates,” he says. “A 10% pay rise isn’t worth the new casual roster system – family time is more important than a pay rise.

“The company says we earn $91k a year – I‘ve never earned that in the 14 years I’ve been here. I get around $64k but I have to work 24 hours overtime and that costs my family.”

Destiny says Jermaine doesn’t see his kids because he leaves for work at 5:30am and gets back at 11:30pm.

“Being a young family is hard enough, but with his hours it feels like I’m a solo mum,” she says. “If the company gets what it wants I’ll have to put my kids in day care and get a job. The thing is that the job would probably only just cover day care costs and I’d have to find a job that worked around casual hours.”

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Brandon Cherrington

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FAMILY PICKET: Brandon Cherrington and his 1 1/2 year old daughter. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Brandon Cherrington, 38, has worked at the Ports of Auckland for 1½ years. He is a permanent part-timer and is only guaranteed 24 hours a week. Brandon has a 1½ year old daughter.

“This strike is all about our families,” he says. “We are here supporting the boys to keep and improve our conditions. With the company’s [proposed] new flexibility, they want us to be on call and I won’t be able to plan activities with my daughter anymore.”

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Shaun Osbourne

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JOB SECURITY: Casual worker Shaun Osbourne on the picket line. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Shaun Osbourne works at the Ports of Auckland. Because he is a casual employee, he hasn’t had a single guaranteed hour in the eight years he has worked there.

“My shifts are allocated the day before I go to work,’ he says. “I could get anywhere between eight and 48 hours a week which could be in the morning, afternoon or graveyard or a combination of the shifts. I won’t be crossing over. We’ve got to make sure permanent workers don’t end up like us casuals.”

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Wayne Wolfe

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FACTS: Wayne Wolfe has done his research. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Wayne Wolfe, 58, works as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He has worked on the ports for 35 years. Wayne has three adult children and two grandchildren, including a two-week old baby. Wayne is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.

“Many of these young fellas are casuals and have had busted up marriages because of their casualised hours,” he says. “When I first joined, conditions were brilliant and I am doing my best to leave it that way.”

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Ron Bell

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PICKET: Local 13 member Ron Bell (53). Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Ron Bell, 53, is a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland. He will have worked on the waterfront for 31 years this coming April and has been union since he was 17. He has four daughters Jac (20), Katherine (18) and twins Samantha and Amanda (15). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.

“I just want our guys to keep their jobs on decent hours and not get shat on waiting by the phone 24 hours a day,” he says. “People before us made our conditions what they are today and they should stay that way.”

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Ken Ziegler

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STAUNCH: Ken Ziegler standing tall. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Ken Ziegler, 49, has worked as a stevedore at the Ports of Auckland for 12 years. Ken is the main provider for his son Carlos (10). He is an executive member of Local 13 of the Maritime Union.

“It’s really simple,” he says. “The company is trying to casualise the entire workforce to keep labour costs down.”

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Napo Kuru

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SOLIDARITY: Casual Napo Kuru stands with permanent workers. Photo: Simon Oosterman

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Napo Kuru, 27, has worked as a casual lasher at the Ports of Auckland for four years.

“I’m on $16 an hour as a casual and can get anywhere between 16 and 30 hours a week,” he says. “We have the same fight as the permanent boys. They want everyone to be cheap which will drive down everyone’s pay.”

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Quote

We will be unrelenting in our quest to lift our economic growth rate and raise wage rates.” – John Key, 29 January 2008

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Additional photos

Simon Oosterman

Related blog items

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Harbour battles & casual fear

Support workers & their families

Facebook: Support Ports of Auckland Workers

The Standard:  Meet the wharfies and their families

Facebook: Maritime Union of New Zealand

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