By Brett Kennedy
THE tide is turning for refugees who now call Mount Gambier home as growing support from businesses continues to secure long-term employment and career opportunities among the Burmese, Congolese and Yazidi population.
Previously hindered by cultural and language barriers, improved education among businesses, coupled with the strong work ethic and reliability of workers, is fuelling a low unemployment rate among refugees.
While a significant amount of refugees have traditionally worked as part of the seasonal workforce – including fruit picking and forestry roles – Australian Migrant Resource Centre Mount Gambier manager Anelia Blackie said more long-term opportunities were steadily becoming available across the region.
It has been a mountain of work to educate and support the city’s business sector, which Ms Blackie heaped praise on for its willingness to employ from the refugee communities.
An employment forum, held at the Mount Gambier Italo Australian Club on Monday, will delve into several success stories within the region, seeking to educate and help businesses understand the opportunities and pathways available.
Ms Blackie said while many sustained their livelihood by working in the seasonal workforce, improved job security was a major focus moving forward.
Outside of season work, Ms Blackie said refugees were serving in aged care and health, manufacturing and forestry, as well as trades such as carpentry, tiling and painting.
“Some of these residents have very good skills and can really do much more than working in the seasonal jobs,” Ms Blackie said.
“The main feedback we get from businesses is the language is a big barrier for them, and sometimes they don’t understand certain behavior,” Ms Blackie said.
“For instance, in certain cultures, people don’t make eye contact or show emotions in certain situations, which can leave an employer wondering how they feel,” she said.
“We have to remember that for the migrants themselves, it is also very difficult. There’s a language barrier for them as well, not just for the Australian workers.”
Ms Blackie said a lack of understanding had fuelled several concerning approaches, including businesses questioning pay rates and entitlements, as well as offers of cash-in-hand payment.
“They are permanent residents – that gives them full working rights,” Ms Blackie said.
Among the speakers planned for Monday’s event is Group Training Employment general manager Greg Megaw, with the training provider first working with Burmese refugees eight years ago.
“We have had some great outcomes – we just get really loyal, respectful and hardworking people,” Mr Megaw said.
“They’re appreciative of what they get and very dedicated to their work.”
Mr Megaw said refugees applied and won jobs and opportunities on their own merit, working with specific employers best suited to meeting the cultural and language requirements.
“We are about helping our whole community – we do not discriminate, especially because of the positive experiences we’ve had,” he said.
Other speakers will include Boandik Aged Care chief executive Gillian McGinty, HollaFresh managing director Ian Lines and Sureway Employment and Training employer relationship coordinator Kyle Gleed.
Congolese man Joseph Njdeka will also share his journey from arrival in Mount Gambier in 2015 to studying nursing locally and recently becoming employed at the Mount Gambier Hospital.
Live entertainment from the Congolese, Burmese and Yazidi communities will also be a feature.
The event is scheduled for a 6.30pm start and is free.