Migrant workers claim they have been left out of pocket after being underpaid for their work in the Christchurch rebuild.
Filipino men Emmanuel Francisco Jr, 20, and Carlos Claveron, 38, arrived in Christchurch in October to work as a painter and a builder, respectively, for TCL Painting and Construction.
The pair said they were contracted to work 40 hours a week for $18 an hour on residential repairs.
They said that after two weeks, TCL owner Them Cuoi Ly told them he was disappointed with their work and that he could not pay them $18 an hour.
Cuoi Ly, a resident from Cambodia, who started his company in Christchurch a year ago, confirmed the workers' initial pay was $18 an hour. He said he reduced it because they were not qualified to work in New Zealand.
"If I bring the person in, they're supposed to be qualified. But if they're not qualified, what can I do? That means I have to waste my time to train them up.
"That's why I tell them I cannot pay for that. That's why you can't pay them $18 [an hour] if they're not qualified."
Francisco and Claveron said they worked up to 60 hours a week, but did not get paid for extra work over normal hours.
Cuoi Ly said the pair sometimes worked more than 40 hours a week and during weekends, but were paid at the normal rate.
"I told them, no overtime. Normal rates. If you want to work on the weekend, it's the same rate."
Francisco and Claveron resigned last month, found another job in two different Christchurch construction firms which paid $20 an hour, and obtained a visa variation.
"We are very disappointed with our experience," Francisco said.
Claveron said: "We don't want this to happen to other Filipinos who come here."
The pair said they did not contact the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) labour inspectorate or immigration services to complain about TCL because they were afraid of losing their visas and did not know who to contact.
The ministry declined to comment about the men's situation.
Figures from Immigration New Zealand show that between July 2011 and last month 4086 work visas were issued to Filipino migrants for the Canterbury region.
Information obtained through the Official Information Act reveals that MBIE's labour inspectorate received 35 complaints about migrant exploitation in the rebuild between January 2012 and September 2013.
Of these, 16 were investigated and resulted in breaches being identified.
Employment and privacy law specialist Kathryn Dalziel, a partner at Taylor Shaw, says: An employer cannot reduce an employee's hourly rate without consent.
An employer cannot require an employee to repay salary or wages without consent.
Even with consent, there is a real possibility any repayment could be revisited because of the statutorily recognised power imbalance in the employment relationship.
Employees on an hourly rate should be paid for hours worked. There is no legal requirement to increase the rate above 40 hours a week.
Beyond 50 hours, the employer needs the employee's agreement because of potential health and safety concerns.
- The Press
Would you consider using your retirement savings to buy a home?Related story: Retirement savings used for first home