Migrant workers ripped off in city rebuild, union claims

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 07/01/2014

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The Earthquake Recovery Commission should blacklist companies that exploit migrant workers, a migrant workers' advocate says.

First Union spokesman Dennis Maga says those with power and money need to take a stand against migrant exploitation in Christchurch's rebuild.

The call comes as the Government works on legislation that will make the exploitation of legal migrant workers a criminal matter.

Maga said small companies were the most likely to exploit migrant workers. These small companies act as subcontractors for bigger companies commissioned by the Earthquake Commission to do the work.

In one case, a subcontractor had made 40 employees work for free on Saturdays, Maga said. He could not give more details as the matter had since then been resolved on the condition of confidentiality.

In another, unresolved, case, 15 employees said they had not been paid for up to 11 weeks.

Maga said parent companies hiring the subcontractors should not shrug off responsibility. EQC and the Christchurch City Council should not commission rogue employers to do lucrative work in the rebuild.

He said it was hard to chase subcontractors because it was easy for the small companies to shut down when things went wrong.

"They can simply shut down their business and form another one the next day. That is what is happening right now. We are concerned about this.

"We'd like the Government to look into the records of these subcontracting companies, especially when they are employing foreign workers."

Maga is calling on the EQC to establish a memorandum of understanding with the parent companies commissioned to do work.

"EQC should be proactive and take away contracts from rogue employers. There are lots of vultures out there, waiting for opportunities to exploit migrants."

EQC Canterbury home repair programme manager Reid Stiven said EQC did not condone the exploitation of migrant workers. Fletcher EQR managed the relationship with contractors on its behalf.

"The Canterbury home repair programme has a good track record of implementing good workplace standards for repairs."

Fletcher EQR could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

Maga said First Union would also ask Immigration New Zealand to include the option to penalise managing directors or chief executives over migrant exploitation, even if the business is under liquidation.

"Otherwise we're going to have a problem to chase these employers to pay the workers."

The Immigration Amendment Bill ,introduced to Parliament in October, could impose a jail sentence of up to seven years, and fines of up to $100,000, on rogue employers.

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Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said at the time that migrants faced problems including being paid below the minimum wage, being forced to work extra hours without pay, or having their passports withheld.

Woodhouse said on radio yesterday that exploitation of migrants was a small problem but was at risk of becoming a larger one.

- BusinessDesk

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