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‘No speak English’ not for Pinoys

By Evelyn A. Opilas
February 18, 2018


 “Evie, you speak Tagalog, right? Can you please speak with my client?” asked a colleague at one of the job network agencies I used to work in.

The jobseeker doesn’t speak English, she said, and I wondered whether this ‘No speak English’ Pinoy was fair dinkum or simply pretending to avoid compliance activities.

We were then assisting jobseekers receiving Newstart allowance to find employment if they were job ready, and if not, to book them into job skills training to learn about creating or updating resumes, writing application letters, interviewing techniques, including presentation of self, documents and portfolios, if required – you know, stuff you could call boring but really works in your favour if you knew what they were and applied them to get your dream job.

Attending appointments, actively looking for suitable employment, and participating in job skills training form part and parcel of being on Centrelink’s Newstart, the compulsory mutual obligation tasks.

Many baulk at compliance and if I were to list all the excuses I’ve heard, I could probably come up with a book, and a best-seller one too.

“No speak English” seemed to be a favourite.

They look at me with a blank stare, smile when I ask questions, and constantly repeat ‘No speak English’, making me wonder how they could report their job search efforts to Centrelink on a form that was written in English if that were so.

‘No speak English’ but ‘Yes, read English?’ Doesn’t seem to make sense.

I’d almost immediately refer them to English class and when some find out what’s at stake, they’d decline, saying they would rather work yet their very excuse for being unemployed is ‘No speak English’. Catch 22.

It was then with curiosity that I attended my colleague’s Tagalog-speaking client. How in the world can this person claim ‘No speak English’, being a Filipino?

According to homeaffairs.gov.au, the top 10 countries providing the most permanent migrants to Australia in order of rank for 2014-15 are:

1. India 2. People’s Republic of China 3. United Kingdom 4. Philippines 5. Pakistan 6. Ireland 7. Vietnam 8. South Africa 9. Nepal 10. Malaysia

Of these countries, India, Pakistan, The Philippines and the United Kingdom have the most English speakers, according to language blog, k-international.com: United States -268 million;  India – 125 million;  Pakistan – over 94 million;  The Philippines – 90 million;  Nigeria – 79 million;  United Kingdom – 59.6 million.

The Philippines was the only country among the top 10 English speakers to rank among the top five highest in the English Proficiency Index of EF, a company that administers English exams to companies, with a professional EPI score of 67.4%, according to k-international.com.

The Netherlands – 15 million – 73.8%;  Denmark – 4.8 million – 72.9%;  Sweden – 8.2 million – 71.7%;  Finland – 3.8 million – 69.2%;  The Philippines – 90 million – 67.4%.

I faced the client anyway, reminding that the Newstart allowance sought willingly, knowingly, consciously from Centrelink came with a mutual obligation component, speak English or not.

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