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The New Zealand construction industry is comprised of a diverse workforce with a substantial number of Pacific Island workers whose employment is more often than not precarious in nature (Lamm et al., 2010). Government statistics also indicate that Pacific Island construction workers are over-represented in injury and fatality rates and precarious employment (Jager et al., 2013; Statistics New Zealand, 2013a, 2013b). Applying the Pacific research methodology tālanoa, the aim of the research reported in this thesis was to investigate how best to manage occupational health and safety (OHS) among precariously employed Pacific Island construction workers.
Given that orthodox, single-method, survey-based research designs are inadequate when trying to attain information about the Pacific Island group of people, talanoa was arguably a more appropriate research method to use in this study. Talanoa is the traditional Pacific Island method of communicating and its principles have been used to illuminate often inaccessible individuals working within industries, such as construction. The talanoa approach overplayed all exchanges between the researcher and the participants and informed the unstructured/semi-structured interview schedule (Vaioleti, 2006).
The findings presented here highlight the complex set of issues that surround the sample of Pacific Island construction workers. The talanoa sessions with the participants provided an in-depth understanding of their views about OHS within their working environment. It showed the tension between trying to financially survive in New Zealand and being relegated to working in dangerous, demeaning and dirty jobs. Another key finding is that imposing OHS policy and practices onto a Pacific Island workforce that emanate from a different cultural perspective may not be effective. Moreover, as supported by the literature (Loosemore & Lee, 2002; Ochieng & Price 2010), a multicultural workforce can also create unique challenges around communication. The cultural appropriateness must be considered, therefore, in order to accommodate the diverse workforce operating in most construction sites. However, a diverse workforce may not necessary be undesirable as different points of views and varied talents can be drawn upon to create robust OHS policy and practices.
The contribution of this study is to highlight the fact that one of the greatest risks in the construction industry is to ignore the issues around managing a culturally diverse workforce, in particular, communication issues and issues stemming from cultural insensitivity. More research, however, is needed on how to best manage this culturally diverse workforce as there is still a sizeable gap between the views of management on one hand and the workers on the other. Improving our understanding of how Pacific Peoples view their jobs and what their experiences are of their pay and working conditions will enable the formulation of more appropriate OHS policies and practices.