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Monday 11th February, 2019 Media release Our Team

Blue Sky Meats welcomes former Colombian refugees

Southland meat processor Blue Sky Meats has always been a community-friendly business and its latest staff intake is no different from this value.

Amid the new season in late 2018, Blue Sky Meats welcomed some former Colombian refugees to its team.

Working with the team at the New Zealand Red Cross’ Colombian refugee resettlement programme, the new recruits have spent the past few weeks learning the ropes and becoming part of the Blue Sky Meats family.

Operations Manager Further Processing/HR Brett Jenkins said the new staff intake was going well and it was great to further add to the strong sense of multiculturalism at the Morton Mains plant.

“Blue Sky Meats has always been a company that has strong family and community ties. We’ve got different generations of the same family working throughout the company and we try to give back to the community wherever we can.”

“These people have escaped some awful conditions and horrific experiences – far beyond what any of us here can comprehend – and for us to be able to offer them a place where they feel they can belong is a pretty special thing.”

Blue Sky Meats reached out to the Red Cross last year when its recruitment season started, talking about how the two organisations could work together to give former refugees jobs and the processor more sets of hands.

Now, five new team members have joined Blue Sky Meats in the boning room under the care of supervisor Dave Evans.

In Colombia, violence and corruption were part of normal life. Now living in New Zealand, life is more peaceful. Though the journey to find a new home has been a challenge at times, it’s been a challenge well worth it.

 For Mónica Londono, one of the most notable differences has been the way employees are treated in New Zealand.

In Colombia, work hours are long and hard, and people aren’t always treated well, she said.

“Here, they value the employee and the conditions we work in are good.”

“Life is laid back and peaceful and a lot slower. I’m enjoying that.”

Working in the primary industry was at the top of Joseph Castro’s list. With a bit of experience working with knives, landing a job with Blue Sky Meats was a big step forward in settling into life in New Zealand.

“Even when I was in Colombia, I had it in my head that I’d be working with meat but it’s really difficult to get into the industry over there,” he said.

“It’s a job that works really well for me, because I’m able to take my kids to school and spend time with my wife as well.”

Former Colombian refugees (from left) Maiky Osorio, Brandon Patiño, Mónica Londono and Joseph Castro with their Blue Sky Meats supervisor Dave Evans.

The team’s supervisor, Dave Evans, said the group were among the most hardworking individuals he’d come across and were always willing to go the extra mile.

“When they’ve finished a task, they’re then asking for more work and how they can be helpful in other areas – you don’t get many people that say that,” he said.

Subject to the same stringent standards of work, the new recruits had taken to the job and plant very well, Jenkins said.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to help out when the region welcomes former refugees, and we can offer some of them work and an income to help them build their new lives.”

“It’s great to see the team expanding, and in such a diverse way.”

The new team members have all come to Blue Sky Meats with lots of enthusiasm for work, they have pleasant, happy personalities and they all work very hard, Jenkins said.

“Language can be a barrier at times, but we make sure they’re all working together on one shift so that they’ve always got someone to chat to. And everyone else seems to be picking up a word here and there in Spanish.”

New Zealand Red Cross Southern Humanitarian Services Manager Sue Price said the organisation was always proud to work with businesses in Aotearoa to get former refugees into employment.

“From experience we know getting that first job on arrival to New Zealand is a crucial part of the settlement process,” she said.

“Finding a job can signal the resumption of a normal life for former refugees. Employment not only improves economic independence – it is also important for social wellbeing and creating a connection to New Zealand society.”

“It also allows former refugees the opportunity to give back to the community. They bring with them great strength and resilience, new skills and ideas, and experience across a wide range of fields.”