Exploited, abused Filipino worker speaks out

From Checkpoint, 5:41 pm on 30 August 2018

A Filipino construction worker who came to Christchurch for a better life says he's been bullied, kicked in the back and hit in the head at work.

It comes after a devastating report released this week by E Tū Union, found Filipino construction workers brought in from overseas for jobs in Auckland and Christchurch are frequently being exploited.

The worker, who asked for us not to use his real name, said relaxing iron-tight visa rules is the only way to stop the exploitation of his fellow countrymen.

The man, who RNZ will call Juan, relocated to New Zealand in 2015 for a better life. 

The joiner turned builder, came from a building site in Qatar on the recommendation of a Filipino friend who said his boss was looking for people to work.

"First my impression of New Zealand was ... it was a better place to come to and work," he said.

While he was happy with his pay of $24 an hour - far below the industry standard - the expectations put on him were gruelling, Juan said.

Being told to complete eight hours worth of work in four hours was common, he said.

But Juan said because his work visa tethered him to his employer his only option was to stay quiet. 

A Filipino worker at a construction site in Christchurch.

A Filipino worker at a construction site in Christchurch. Photo: Frank Film

Six months later, he and six co-workers were made redundant.

Desperate for a new job to enable him to send money home to his family, he accepted a new role at a small family-owned joinery firm for $21 an hour.

The first year was good, but then things went downhill, Juan said. 

"Sometimes if they are not in a bad mood they would call me names, I've been called an idiot, stupid," he said.

"Sometimes I have been told I should be ashamed of myself."

"I have been hit in the back of my head and I've been kicked in the butt twice."

Juan said he was once again subjected to unrealistic work demands - all for $21 an hour.

Juan said in the second year of the job his employer stopped giving him payslips, saying he did not need them.

After almost three years in New Zealand, Juan transferred to another job - where he works now.

He only started this job to support his family back home, he said.

"It's for the opportunity ... I still need to provide for my [wife and two] daughters," he said.

"It's difficult because I've been working overseas for 16 years and I go home to visit them every two, three years ... most of my life is spent overseas and I don't get to see them.

"I can't afford to go home at Christmas because I can't afford the ticket."

Juan thinks the rules need to change so skilled migrants do not need to rely on employers to sponsor their work visa.

Current skilled migrant visa rules require your employer to fill in a form as part of your application - this is called an 'Employer Supplementary Form'.

Immigration minister, Iain Lees-Galloway said he was hearing stories like Juan's more often than he was comfortable with.

"That's why the government is about to embark on a piece of work that will look at all of our immigration settings, what opportunities there are for exploitation in our immigration system, and to take whatever steps we need to eliminate those," he said.

Building and Construction, and Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa said she was also worried.

"We are aware of this issue and we are taking it very seriously," she said.

"The government is currently working on a Cabinet paper that deals with the exploitation of migrant workers. This relates to accreditation of labour hire companies operating in the construction sector. 

"Migrant workers make an important contribution to the building and construction workforce, and they must be treated fairly while working in New Zealand."