Sunday, 30 September 2012

Economic migrant (Οικονομικός μετανάστης)

Emigration - it's such a fluid concept in our times.

Stelios, a good family friend, was desperate to get away from a failed marriage and a mountain of debts. Being a New Zealand citizen by birth, he decided to emigrate to Australia. Two years later, he comes back to Greece on holiday, mainly to see his kids and sort out some paperwork. He looked happier and healthier than when I last saw him in Crete. He also had a lot to tell us.

"I don't tell people where I'm working in Australia. I just say I live in Perth, but I actually work in the desert mines. I don't tell them because I'm making good money, and everyone thinks I can get them a job just because I'm there. But that's not the way things work in Australia. You have to prove your worth. I've been at the mines for only 8 months and I've already had one promotion, which is unusual. You are rewarded for good work, and I'm often told that I put in the work of two people. That's how I got the chance to go on holiday before I had even completed a year at the job. I'm very lucky.

"I don't work underground, I'm always above ground. My job has to do with building foundations and pouring concrete. It's very hot work, I'm always working outdoors, often in 50-55°C temperatures. We work 10-hour days in the heat, 13 days in a row. I get every second Sunday off. Every day, I slap sunscreen on my face and put on my long-sleeved uniform. It's the rule - we are forbidden to wear anything else. I'm what's known as a fly-in-fly-out worker. After 6 weeks, I leave the mines and go back to Perth, where I stay for a week at a friend's house. Then I fly back in for another 6-week stint.

"Although I'm making good money, I also pay an enormous amount on taxes. I'm happy with my pay packet, but I'm often astounded to think that I pay almost the same as I make in taxes. My accomodation and food is included in my pay. Our homes are like container units. I have a room to myself with a bathroom and air-conditioning. There are meals served every day through a buffet - I don't have to cook. After work, all I have time for is to clean myself up, go to the gym on the compound and have a meal. The closest town is about an hour's drive away, but I really don't have time to go anywhere after work. There's no point in it anyway, because we're too tired. I don't even have time to go to the workers' pubs. I'm just too tired.

"I'm glad I don't have any hidden expenses where I live. There's nothing to do with your money in the desert, so you can save it all. I make a good amount of money to allow myself to think about buying a house, maybe somewhere in Perth. I'm also paying off my debts in Greece. I don't know if I really want to come back to live there though; things are a mess there. I miss my kids, but I can't offer them anything here. If they come out to Australia with me, they won't be much use to me or even to themselves - if you aren't educated, you have few hopes of achieving anything. Australia's only worth emigrating for if you can secure yourself a high-paying job as a qualified professional, through the programs being advertised for a skilled workforce. Otherwise, you'll be working like a slave and making bugger all. Greeks think Australia is a rich country and everyone has good jobs making good money. There's no truth in that. If you're unskilled and uneducated, you haven't got a chance to improve your life. You'll simply be stuck in a rut.

"I went to Perth because I had relatives there. Before I began working in the mines, I got a job through one of them at a meat market, just to start earning some money. The money wasn't really good, and my job wasn't really a job. I was more of a dogsbody. I wanted to start sending money home as soon as I could, but I felt like I was a burden where I was living, and I'd help with the expenses. I really wanted to become independent. I eventually got a job as a plumber in a firm, which is what I was trained in when I was living in Hania. That gave me the chance to start living independently, so I found a room in a flat in the city. But the company didn't seem to be doing very well. The pay was not good, there were no chances of improving my lot there and I began to worry when I realised that I couldn't send any money home to my kids. I got really depressed.

"I began scouring the newspapers for job ads. My English skills had improved speech-wise, but my written English is still nowhere near up to par. I'm able to read basic stuff now, but I still can't write. I was able to read the job ads, but I couldn't fill in an applicaiton form on my own. I was helped by a friend I met at my plumbing job. He helped me every step of the way in getting the job at the mines. He knew people who worked in the offices of the mining company and he recommended me to them. That helped my application to rise to the top of the pile instead of being hidden among the many applications that get sent there.

"That friend is now like a big brother to me, and I'm very close to him. He's Israeli and he's been in Australia for 30 years. I stay with him and his family in their house when I fly out from the mines. I don't see my relatives much. When I told them I got a job at the mines, they couldn't believe it. When they realised that I was making good money, they seemed to show signs of jealousy. They kept asking me to get them a job there too. But I couldn't do that - I was just a worker there! I think they were wondering how I managed to achieve so much in so little time, when they came out before me and have been living and working there a long time. It's been three months since I last saw them. You can't trust your own family any longer. Blood may be thicker than water but you choose your friends, not your family.

"Living and working in Australia is not what it's cracked up to be. I had a really rough start. After a year, I began panicking and almost packed up to go back to Greece. I had no one to turn to except myself. If I've achieved anything, it's through a lot of my own personal effort. What keeps me going now is the money. I'm able to send some money to my parents to give to my kids, I'm ploughing my way through paying off my debts and I can even think of getting onto the property market. If I do that, I will be able to bring my kids here and they can have a better chance in life. But that's only if they want this for themselves. I won't make them come here. It's a personal choice for them to come here. Life isn't easy anywhere."

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