Hostel Luxury at Freezing Works
Perhaps it is a bit much to describe any hostel as being luxurious, exactly, but the boys in the hostel at the Gear Meat Works, Petone, are certainly pretty comfortable.
They have individual, well-planned rooms of their own (some of them going in for some pretty striking forms of interior decoration), and their communal rooms include a kitchen where they make themselves supper, an all-purpose room used for such things as practices by the hostel band, and a sitting-room complete with ping-pong tables, TV, and comfortable armchairs. There is also a football field where flood-lit games can be seen going on most evenings.
Boys Feel Responsible
Much of this comfort is due to the Company's concern for their welfare, but the big thing is that the boys have been led to feel responsible for the place, and, as a consequence, to be proud of it. They have been encouraged to acquire the facilities for many spare-time activities, but they have mostly raised the money for these things themselves; the TV and their expensive band instruments, for example, were paid for through their own fund-raising efforts. They know that they could ask the Company for money—but they take a pride in being independent. This pride is surely the reason for the spotless condition in which things are kept, and for the happy atmosphere there.
During the peak season at the works there are up to 80 boys, nearly all of them Maori, living at the hostel, and even in the off-season there are about sixty of them. Nearly all of them are under 21 (after this, if they're not married they usually share a house with friends), and they come from all over New Zealand—from Waikato, Northland, Taranki, the East Coast, Wellington itself, and elsewhere.
They get on very well at the Gear Meat Works, where 45 per cent of all the workers are Maoris; ‘we really welcome Maoris here,’ Mr Steve Watene, the Company's Welfare Officer, told ‘Te Ao Hou’. Maoris have a natural aptitude for the work, he said; provided a company looks after them, they are exceptionally good workers.
Good With Their Hands
Mr Watene, who has been Welfare Officer at the Company for six years, told us many interesting things about Maoris in freezing works. They manage well because they are particularly good at using their hands, and enjoy doing so; this capacity to enjoy their work, especially when they are in groups (a capacity which in general is probably more typical of
Maoris than Pakehas), makes all the difference.
Though they get on well with their Pakeha mates, they prefer on the whole to work in all Maori groups. They don't like detailed work, such as meat processing jobs, but are very good at the heavy work, like butchering and dressing. The expert teams of ‘tally men’ are 90 per cent Maori, simply because Maoris are usually better at this work than Pakehas. (Maoris don't like the cold, though, it seems; there are few of them in the freezing chambers, even though the pay is good there).
In the last few years, Maori workers have been especially encouraged to take on responsible positions, and at present three out of fifteen supervisors are Maori, with seven more training for the job.
This is quite different from the situation a few years ago, when Maoris had responsible jobs at the Works, and when things did not always go smoothly as regards the Maori employees there. The change in atmosphere which has occurred since then is due to a new management's intelligent interest in the welfare of their employees; one aspect of this is the especial attention which they have paid to Maori welfare, both as regards the hostel and in other respects.
Much of the credit is certainly due to Mr Watene, who came to the Company in the first instance simply as its Welfare Officer, and only by chance found himself concentrating upon Maori problems. Mr Watene, who comes from Auckland (he used to be with Hellaby's there) has done a great deal to improve the situation at the Works.
The Company is certainly benefiting from their new policy also; there hasn't been a single work stoppage at the Gear Meat Works in the past four years—and this is a pretty notable record.
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