Pay rates rise as rebuild takes off

Builder pay rates in Canterbury may be starting to pass those in Auckland as the rebuild gains traction.

Statistics New Zealand figures made public yesterday in the labour cost index and the quarterly employment survey show Canterbury construction wages and salaries are the fastest=-growing in New Zealand.

Canterbury Registered Master Builders Association president Clive Barrington was reluctant to reveal how much builders were paid.

"The industry is under huge pressure and the last thing people want to do is start telling everybody else what they are paying their people because it only puts pressure on those people,'' he said.

"All I'm prepared to say in the newspaper is there is pressure on finding staff."

Good tradesmen were scarce, companies were bringing in migrant workers and builders from other parts of New Zealand were working in the region, he said.

Pay rates could be confusing because it was not always clear what they included, especially with contractors.

"It's definitely cranking up. In the last month we have seen a lot more work," he said.

Andrew McGill, owner of Reliance Recruitment, said Fletcher Building's cap of $45 an hour was placing an artificial lid on rates, but he expected rates to rise as more insurance company repair and rebuild work came in.

McGill* said a skilled carpenter could earn $35 an hour, but that would rise as demand outstripped supply.

New Zealand's largest general insurer, IAG, said this week that it would complete 100 new builds by Christmas and 500 by next June. 

It was on track to complete 50 major repairs by Christmas and 450 by June.

Reliance Recruitment's online advertisements for builders in Christchurch offer starting wages of $23 to $27 an hour and wages for contractors of $27.50 to $32.50 an hour for long or short-term work.

McGill said that traditionally Auckland pay rates for builders were about $2 an hour higher than in Christchurch, but "we are going to leap-frog them pretty quickly".

He said Canterbury rates were probably slightly higher now than Auckland's.

He could place builders with experience and good references in positions immediately in Christchurch, whereas it would take longer in Auckland because the demand was not as strong.

When applicants rang or applied online for jobs in Christchurch from elsewhere, the company advised them not to move unless they had arranged accommodation with family or friends.

"It's a genuine zoo out there," McGill said, referring to the rental market.

ASB economist Daniel Smith said the Canterbury rebuild would put pressure on wages over the coming year as skill shortages emerged, but there was little evidence of that effect yet.

Statistics New Zealand said the number of filled jobs in Canterbury had not recovered to pre-February 22, 2011, levels but rose 1 per cent in the year to September.

Fulltime jobs were up 3 per cent but part-time positions fell by the same figure.

The biggest rises were in construction, accommodation, food services, arts and recreation, while healthcare and social assistance and manufacturing tumbled.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed this comment to Clive Barrington. We apologise for the error.

The Press