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Former Cooperite in building trade

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 09:25 25/03/2013
Israel and Phil Cooper
Kirk Hargreaves

CLOSELY SUPERVISED: Israel Cooper, left, oversees his father Phil Cooper.

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A Christchurch building company says it closely supervises an employee implicated in Australia for alleged visa infringements relating to Filipino workers.

Inquiries by The Press show the general manager of Christchurch firm Buildtech Restorations, Phil Cooper, operated a business which was barred, in 2008, by the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship, from using foreign workers for five years for visa programme abuses.

The company, Better Signs and Promotions, which traded as Simply Better Signs in Coffs Harbour, about 500 kilometres north of Sydney, eventually went into liquidation.

The allegations included claims the company was extracting repayment of airfares from Filipino workers brought into Australia under the visa scheme, charging them high rents for accommodation in houses provided by the firm and contravening pay and workplace safety regulations.

Cooper, in 2009, wrote a book about fleeing the Cooperite sect headed on the West Coast by his father Neville Cooper, aka Hopeful Christian, and the night-time rescue of his children.

Cooper returned to Christchurch after his company failed in Australia and established SB Signs in Sydenham, and then Buildtech after the quakes.

His son Israel Cooper, the director of Buildtech and various associated entities, said his father reported to him and the company was scrupulous about complying with regulations.

Israel Cooper said he understood his father's difficulties in Australia had stemmed from the company giving time in lieu for overtime instead of paying it. The allegations of charging exorbitant rents were never proved, he said.

"Buildtech is very, very careful and very diligent to do everything correctly and our workers are treated fairly and no profiteering takes place. We spend a lot of effort making sure they are integrated into the community. This includes at least fortnightly social functions and taking foreign workers on regular sightseeing tours of the local area."

Cooper said the company reimbursed most of the fees paid upfront by workers who completed their term of employment with Buildtech and had tried to get a reduction in the fees charged.

It employed 22 Filipino workers, 17 of whom were housed in four group houses, he said.

The rental side of the Buildtech business is operated by World Changing Ltd, of which Phil Cooper is the only director and shareholder.

Rents amounted to about $1500 a week and expenses - including a part-time manager, power, Sky TV, internet and transport - were about $1200 a week, Israel Cooper said. The workers were charged $160 a week each.

Cooper said the Buildtech charges were at the lower end of the range with many companies charging $180 a week.

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- The Press

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