This early morning sight above the vast expanse of the fabulous city of Melbourne yesterday was a stunningly beautiful and refreshing sight to behold. But what eventuated beneath that fantastic scenery over a 2-3 day session of intense negotiations exposed a culturally mountainous challenge that Vanuatu has to decisively overcome within the context of the Australian Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) and also the Regional Seasonal Employment (RSE). We have a generally very poor ‘attitude’ to work. We want to get paid, but we cannot be bothered to deliver to the best of our abilities. We get by with substandard quality work and we are happy with it. We do less and poor quality work and expect more pay.
So, armed with glossy and very colorful brochures and business cards, two new but very talented ni-Vanuatu marketing agents approached this grower within the gigantic Melbourne Convention Centre and grabbed the
golden opportunity to sell not only their agencies but Vanuatu as a source country for seasonal workers. They did a pretty fantastic job. Then it was the grower’s (farmer’s) turn to speak. Little did the two marketing specialists know that this particular grower had dealt with ni-Vanuatu workers in the past. His impression of the previous workers was very poor, and knew a lot of information that the two agents were unaware of. So the farmer took his turn. ‘I like Vanuatu a lot. You have a very beautiful country. And I like the people’, he started. Then he hit the nail on the head, ‘but your workers are dirty’.
The details of that afternoon’s frank and fair conversation you don’t really
want to hear about. It was bad. It fell on the two guys like a ton of bricks. Had the mighty Convention Centre floor opened up for a brief moment, they would have very happily vanished into it never to be seen again with
their colorful brochures and promotional materials.
Later that day the duo related the story to other colleagues and the entire mob broke into hilarious laughter at their embarrassing misfortune.
What is the moral of this incident or encounter for us? We (Vanuatu people) need to admit one thing. We generally have a very bad attitude problem to work. Coupled with unethical behavior at the highest level, we have inflicted on ourselves a long term challenge we must overcome. In leadership at the highest political level it’s the same story. The fish head begins to rot right there. One moment they toast a kava shell to set aside differences, and at times mercilessly kill those pigs (defying the constant
outcries of campaigners for animal rights), the very next moment they turn into bitter enemies. And later on toast more kava and slaughter more animal lives, just to repeat history until these rituals become another
passing sight. Perhaps that’s why we don’t have enough meat to export? We slaughter more of them locally to entertain our lies to each other.
Over time the practice turns into a despicable habit. Because the finer sensibilities have been benumbed through repetition, the ceremonies they capture media attention over become totally meaningless. Meanwhile the rest of the people – both old and young – follow the stories and the entire spectrum of very poor leadership attitudes becomes ‘business-as-usual’. That’s the kind of society our leaders have condoned for a very long time, and indirectly that’s how they are ‘training’ the rest of the country – its
institutions, authorities, individuals in positions of leadership or otherwise, the people and the children – to behave. That’s why in seasonal work, we portray the very same behaviors.
This story started off with a brief experience between two marketing agents and an Australian grower. But it tells of a story that reflects who we are – as citizens of a country that needs to make some drastic changes to our work ethics. The bad attitudes to work that we have entertained for
a very long time has to be confronted head on. We have a “work culture” problem. Worker discipline is extremely poor because the root cause – general ‘attitude’ – has never really been effectively addressed and disciplined in the workplace. Those attitudes are pretty ‘normal practice’ within the confines of a domestic environment that appears to be ‘polluted’
and saturated with all these culturally accepted practices and norms. Unfortunately foreign investors, established businesses and other types of
employers have to learn to work their way around these. But that is unsustainable and is self-defeating. It is counterproductive to progress,
growth and development. As soon as you board the plane and head overseas, you are confronted with a work culture that is totally different and which demands nothing less than excellence, productivity
Vanuatu should undertake major reforms in its approach to work – be it seasonal employment under the SWP or RSE, NGO, private sector, or in particular, within the Government’s civil service. We should be a country that promotes excellence in the workplace and in all areas. General discipline and Selfdiscipline are utterly weak in many organizations. That’s why we leave no legacy or footprints behind for others to admire or emulate or even improve upon. These dark and cloudy horizons hover over us, but if we will, we can. Where there is a will, there is a way.