Some Christchurch rebuild workers continue to be exploited, a trend unions say needs to stop.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment yesterday issued a warning to Canterbury companies after one was found to have not paid an employee his full wages, annual leave or public holiday entitlements.
He and another employee were also not supplied with employment agreements.
The Press understands the Labour Inspectorate - the ministry's investigation arm - is investigating several companies, and that the most recent finding is part of a larger trend in Christchurch's building industry.
Acting Labour Inspectorate regional manager Steve Watson said migrant workers were a particularly vulnerable section of the workforce and an increasing focus for the ministry's enforcement operations.
The inspectorate was working with Immigration New Zealand to ensure migrant exploitation, such as paying less than the minimum wage or making people work excessive hours, did not occur in Canterbury.
Canterbury Unions Earthquake Recovery and Rebuild co-ordinator Paul Watson said he was aware of several cases of alleged worker exploitation.
"It highlights that it is occurring and it is a trend that needs to be nipped in the bud," he said.
"There is billions of dollars in the rebuild and it's quite disgraceful that you can find people who will take advantage to maximise profit."
Penalties of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies can be imposed on those not complying with employment laws.
Labour Party industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said understaffing of the Labour Inspectorate in Christchurch had led to low numbers of investigations. There were only six staff members to investigate Canterbury labour abuses, she said.
"I would be delighted to think they have the resources but if they are just relying on complaints it's not going to happen. They are going to need an army of inspectors," Fenton said.
Migrant workers particularly were afraid to come forward as many had paid agents thousands of dollars to come into the country, she said.
Watson said the inspectorate was not underestimating the problem, but only became aware of problems once people had come forward.
"That's the only how we find out who the really bad guys are," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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