Hinemoana Baker – eight years without a holiday

Posted By TEU on Jul 18, 2013 | 5 comments

If Hinemoana Baker is looking relaxed it’s because she has just come back from her first holiday in “maybe eight years”. With her long string of casual short-term jobs, and her partner self-employed, it is not easy to align days off that overlap.

Many in Kāpiti know Hinemoana best as a musician and poet, but she is also a creative writing tutor at a polytechnic. It is a job she has had since 2006, in a string of semester-long employment agreements.

Each semester Hinemoana talks to her manager, asks about job security. Each semester her manager says the polytechnic does not know if it will have a sufficient number of students enrol to offer the course. So, one semester at a time it is.

Paekākāriki is one of those places where artists, poets and musicians work on their craft. So the small yellow Paekākāriki café where I met Hinemoana will have heard similar stories of casual fixed-term work from many of its residents.

Hinemoana also edits the polytechnic’s literary review – again a fixed term agreement that she is offered each year.

The rest of her income comes from a range of other small agreements, mainly with education institutions. Over the years, this has included supervising a masters student, teaching a three-Saturday poetry course, and offering one-off workshops for arts festivals.

“I’m really grateful to be employed and I enjoy the work,” says Hinemoana as she sips her coffee.

Hinemoana’s passion is music and poetry but recently she has had to turn down gigs and readings to accommodate her competing short-term agreements and contracts.

All these jobs “cobble together an income”. Hinemoana calls it a ‘portfolio career’. But it often means there is no work over summer from November to March when the students are gone.

So, recently Hinemoana answered an advert for a permanent job with Quitline, 15 hours a week doing an afternoon/evening shift on the phone lines.

“I didn’t want to be reliant on the teaching work. I needed something more reliable.”

“It’s hard to juggle all the deadlines and demands sometimes. But I’m lucky I have skills other than music.”

Hinemoana is never sure of what work awaits her semester to semester. She says she does not plan her future. Partly that is her personality, and partly it is her employment situation. She does not have huge debt, except for the ubiquitous student loan, and she does not have many assets.

“I don’t ever foresee being able to buy a house. I don’t have a savings plan or a retirement plan.” A bit of Kiwisaver and a bit invested with a Ngāi Tahu savings scheme – nothing much.

When I ask her about her expenses she says she has no extreme habits except guitar strings.

To get the jobs done Hinemoana is extremely disciplined about time management. Her busy times are May, June, July. But occasionally she suffers from depression. If that, or any other sickness or unexpected time out from work catches her then her carefully stacked pyramid of short-term jobs becomes a backlog of work. Because she is on casual employment agreements, she does not have sick leave she can fall back on.

“It can be gruelling. I can’t remember a proper weekend for a long time.”

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