Migrant workers at risk as rebuild firms go bust
A growing number of rebuild-related firms are going bust despite a building boom in Christchurch. Migrant workers are among the many people affected. CECILE MEIER reports.
When recruitment company Kairmore Construction went bust a few days before Christmas 2014, it left 12 Filipino workers in the lurch.
The company was created shortly after the February 2011 earthquakes to supply staff to construction companies.
Three years later, it went under owing more than $100,000 to Inland Revenue and weeks of wages to workers.
Filipino rebuild workers, who had left family behind in the Philippines, lost their jobs and missed out on two weeks wages and holiday pay.
Some of them paid thousands of dollars in fees and went into debt to come here.
Two former Kairmore workers, who asked not to be named because they feared they would be sent home it they talked to the media, said the company's failure had left them "very, very worried".
They have since found new jobs with labour hire company Coverstaff and were allowed to stay longer in their accommodation.
Coverstaff sales and marketing director Clive Murden said he went out of his way to "get them back to work within five to 10 days".
The company had to apply for a visa variation for the workers with Immigration NZ "under urgency", he said.
Kairmore sole shareholder and director Exham Peter Wichman did not return calls. .
The firm has been in liquidation since December 2014.
Liquidator Malcolm Hollis said he had visited the workers to explain the process they would have to follow to get the money they were owed.
"They were quite worried about where they would stay and whether they would be told to leave the country."
Hollis was investigating whether Wichman used company money to buy personal assets.
Selling these assets might enable him to pay the workers the money they were owed, he said.
Hollis said Wichman "didn't have basic level of qualification" required to run a business.
Kairmore never paid withholding tax (PAYE) even though it had up to 23 employees at one stage.
"If somebody thinks that they can employ 20 Filipinos and not pay PAYE, we have a problem."
He had considered working with MBIE to ban Wichman from being a director but it would be a long, time-consuming and complex process.
The IRD might take action, he said.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and EmploymentCanterbury recovery programme acting director Helen Allred says companies going bust "does not appear to be affecting the pace of the rebuild".
About 30,000 construction workers were employed in greater Christchurch as of September 2014 - up from the 15,000 estimated pre-quake.
At the peak of the rebuild in December 2016, 38,000 construction workers will be required.
BY THE NUMBERS
Between July 2011 and 24 March 2015, Immigration New Zealand approved 4,739 temporary work visas specifically linked to the Canterbury rebuild.
The top three nationalities are:
Great Britain: 1100