Multicultural committee making mussels stronger

Multicultural committee members (from left to right) Martha Grace, Nesi Tusa, Mary Delos Trinos, Umu McLean and Thonglor Peck.

There’s a mussel processing factory in Tauranga that has so many different ethnicities amongst its staff that it has set up its own multicultural committee.

This is Kalesi Warren’s ninth season working at North Island Mussel’s and she’s now involved in company’s multicultural committee.

She says the committee helps establish cultural respect and understanding, with staff members coming from 24 different ethnicities.

“We are just helping to make sure everyone is happy.

“Mainly it’s the respect we have for each other… because we are all from different islands and different countries.

“Different countries have different cultures, so we have to learn to respect them all. It’s very important.”

Human resources advisor Norelle Cadman says members of the multicultural committee have not been selected by management they are the ones that have become leaders.

“When someone has a problem, they have always been the ones that have been grabbed.”

Committee members act as interpreters for staff that are not confident in English and have an issue they want to share with management.

“If other people’s English isn’t good, they can come to us and we will help them explain their problems,” says committee member Martha Grace, who has worked at the company for 12 seasons.

“There are 220 staff on site when two shifts are happening, so we need to keep our communication clear, open and possible for everybody,” says HR business partner Marion Troon.

“I think the staff do feel supported that if they have an issue, they can take it to their interpreter or come to us with an interpreter. They know how to communicate and the channels to use.”

Another crucial role of the multicultural committee is enriching the workplace with cultural knowledge, initiatives and events.

“That’s what these guys are really passionate about, they love immersing people into different cultures,” says Norelle.

The committee recognises cultural celebrations such as Chinese New Year, Diwali and Pasifika Day.

“On Pasifika Day the ladies worked in the kitchen, put their music on and covered the walls with tapa clothes and flags from all the different islands. They wore their traditional dress, and when everyone else came up to eat, they really had a feel for the culture,” says Norelle. 

The company has introduced free, weekly English classes for staff members through Employ NZ but workers are also encouraged to speak their own language at work.

“So many of our workers have been with us season after season. They come back to us, and say ‘ok we are home’,” says Norelle.

“It definitely has more of that family vibe to it, and that comes with the sharing of the cultures.”

Norelle believes there has been a drastic change within the company since the committee has been established.

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