Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Working for a Living

Educated migrants and refugees are increasingly turning to the poorly paid menial work in order to survive, as a result of subtle forms of discrimination and non-recognition of their academic and professional qualifications in Australia. But menial work is not everyone’s cup of popcorn.

“I work as a cleaner most of the time; and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty”, said Sam Chol, a Sudanese refugee whose noble proletarian ethics is the envy of all.

“I’ve washed dishes in the restaurants, work in factories, and even drive a taxi for a living”.

Sam is a thoroughly flexible modern worker; who is not ashamed of odd jobs, who knows a thing or two about the struggle for survival. But he is not alone!

Generally, most of the Africans I know do tend to prefer paid work, of any definition, to welfare cheques. In fact, they hate the dole - they really do! Since working for a living is the African way of being, there is a strong belief among the new arrivals that work provides a stepping stone towards greater prosperity and a better life in Australia.

For example, the new refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone have made their presence felt in the Australian labour market within a relatively short time; working as factory hands, nurses, cleaners, childcare workers, cooks, and aged care providers; injecting a healthy dose of African optimism and high spirits into the Australian economy and society.

Nevertheless, a significant number of the new migrants are still unaccustomed to manual labour. They still dream of the good old days; dwelling on their former glory; and always reflecting upon the superior lifestyle, they believed, they once enjoyed.

For instance, some elements of the post-independence elites of tropical Africa who, by a cruel twist of fate, now find themselves in exile in a strange new land, naturally give short shrift to any idea of menial work. Having been unduly influenced by the trappings of class privileges (and the values of “labour aristocracy”), they would not even consider manual work as an alternative to idleness.

“I’m looking for a good job”, Charles Idowu informed me recently. “Nothing blue-collar, mind you…Menial work is not for me. That’s what my servants used to do back home in Africa”.

Sadly, those bogged down in the past have no future to speak of; and are losing their status and health in the new order. (Work is directly responsible for our health and wellbeing.)

Generally though, the new generation of African migrants and refugees in Australia are really trying to work hard for a living; doing odd jobs as they come. Some are forging ahead in the services sector, running small businesses of their own; while others “work and study” to improve themselves.
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