Rebuild slowness repels workers

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 20/06/2012
Josh Broadhurst
COMMUTER: Josh Broadhurst hoped to be part of his city's rebuild, but said the financial incentive and standard of living in Australia outweighed his emotional ties to home.

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Christchurch construction workers disheartened with the "painfully slow" rebuild are tripling their salaries in Australia.

A former Christchurch worker, who now keeps tabs on the rebuild from Queensland, said there was not a lot enticing labourers home.

James Bunn, who is in his mid-40s, commutes weekly to work in Australia, along with more than 30 other Cantabrians.

He said many had originally planned to return to take part in the rebuild but had since changed their minds.

"The impression over here is that the rebuild is struggling to get under way, primarily due to too many unqualified, inexperienced councillors riddled with internal politics," he said.

There was "no comparison" with the rebuild of Christchurch and that of flood-hit Queensland.

"Kiwis over here are asking what's going on back home. It's not a good impression."

Bunn, who used to work as an assistant site manager in central Christchurch, took up a job in a new gasfield development project in Queensland this year.

The father of two chose to commute to Australia rather than shift his family and now earned double his former salary. He expected it would increase to triple in the next few months.

His 25-year-old nephew also shifted to Australia and now earned A$180,000 a year (NZ$230,000) working in the mines, he said.

"We go from a place that's booming and developing back to Christchurch, where everything's moving painfully slow," he said.

"The longer we wait for things to take off, the more settled we get and the less likely we are to go back."

Cantabrian Josh Broadhurst, 24, had also hoped to be part of his city's rebuild, but said the financial incentive and standard of living in Australia outweighed his emotional ties to home.

He had also more than doubled his salary operating trucks, diggers and loaders for a mining company in New South Wales.

A graduate engineer would expect to start on about $50,000 in New Zealand, but in Australia they could start on up to A$90,000, the Labour Department says.

The national president of the New Zealand Institute of Building, Samir Govind, said the higher Australian wages posed a concern but it was still possible to recruit New Zealand graduates.

"We can't compare in terms of a money sense. They offer more and they will offer more,'' he said.

"If Kiwis want to chase the money they will go to Australia." 

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive Roger Sutton said an "overwhelming number" of construction workers in the central business district were locals or former Cantabrians who had returned home.

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He questioned whether the number moving to Australia was any different to that before the earthquakes.

"When I look around the local contractors who are working flat out, I definitely see Cantabrians working hard alongside all the people we need to help us get the job done," he said.

Fletchers spokesman Barry Akers said there was no shortage of local workers in the city, but he believed that could change when the volume of work climbed.

- The Press

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