First Tongan carpenter to study in New Zealand under CRP project graduated


The first Tongan carpenter recruited under the Christchurch Reconstruction Project in New Zealand has just graduated with a Level 4 in Carpentry from the ARA Institute in Christchurch.

Oini Schaaf, aged 34 was the only Tongan among 24 carpenters recruited from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji under the NZ Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme which has recently been expanded to include a pilot for skilled workers in the construction sector.

Oini was recruited by New Zealand labour-hire company, Adecco Personnel and he has been working on building sites in Christchurch since his arrival 6 months ago.  In his spare time and evenings, he attended ARA Institute to study for his Level 4 qualification.

The pay-off for Oini, who grew up in Kolomotu’a in Nuku’alofa is that with this qualification, he is able to apply for work as a carpenter anywhere in the world because the New Zealand qualification is internationally recognized.

It will also mean that he can expect a better rate of pay.

Which is not bad for this former Tonga College student who started work as a sweeper and general labour hand for Cabella Construction in Tonga five years ago and who came to New Zealand without any formal carpentry qualifications.

He was hired by Addecco on the strength of his work experience only and Oini was not too sure how he would fare but he knuckled down and learned a lot on site where his work was being assessed towards his qualifications.

He said he was earning around $ToP3.50 an hour when he left for New Zealand at the beginning of the year.

He is now on $ToP35.00 an hour and with his new qualification he can expect a lift in his rates soon but more importantly he’s become more marketable and is likely to be picked up by a construction company as a full-time carpenter in New Zealand when his contract with Addecco ends in September.

Oini told Kaniva that he intends to find permanent work in New Zealand and that he will then move here with his wife, ‘Ofa and their two kids.

The liaison officer for the Tongan government who looks after the RSE workers in New Zealand, Mr Sefita Hao’uli was at ARA Institute at the graduation ceremony and he confirmed that there are already job offers on the way for Oini to consider once this pilot ends in September.

“He will be required to go home at thend of the pilot but if he accepts the jobs he’s being offered, he can return to New Zealand on a permanent job contract and then it’s up to him if he wants to make New Zealand his new home”, he said.

Mr Hao’uli explained that Tonga had an allocation of up to 8 places under the pilot and although some were good enough on the job, their English wasn’t up to the required standard.

“Communications is very important particularly for safety reasons. Building sites are hazards and workers are expected to be able to speak and read reasonable English or they will pose a threat to themselves and others on site, he said.

Tonga’s Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the pre-selection of suitable recruits under the RSE scheme including this new opportunity for those with skills in the building trade.