10 May 2018

Questions over Filipino labour-hire contracts: 'They're scared'

8:14 pm on 10 May 2018

A construction worker brought over from the Philippines to work in Auckland says he was told to pay $5000 or be deported, if he wanted to get out of his contract.

A Filipino worker at a construction site in Christchurch.

A construction worker was threatened with deportation when he asked to resign. (File photo) Photo: Frank Film

The worker - along with 15 others - had been without a job for three months after being recruited by labour hire company Allied Work Force (AWF) in August last year.

First Union migrant workers representative Dennis Maga said the worker - who RNZ has agreed not to name - came to him for help, despite having a clause in his contract forbidding union involvement.

"That's the reason why they are scared. One of them successfully changed employer and intended to resign last Friday and when the person asked to resign he was threatened to be deported otherwise he would need to pay them $5000.

"So we provided them some advice and assistance from our lawyers."

A copy of the contract provided to workers - which has been obtained by RNZ - is on an AWF letterhead and signed by a current manger.

'It certainly doesn't line up'

But AWF chief executive Simon Bennett said that was not his company's contract.

"The contract is dated November but in fact the contract presented to [the worker] was in August last year so the timing is certainly not attached and I think that's a bit mischievous," he said.

"That is a piece of paper that is not part of the IEA (Individual Employment Agreement) that was issued to that worker... it certainly doesn't line up."

Mr Bennett also said his company did not threaten the worker last Friday with deportation or ask him to pay a sum of money.

"I know it to be incorrect - I know that these Filipinos, like anybody, can resign as they wish."

Mr Maga said the workers were disappointed about not working and even though they were getting paid by AWF for 30 hours, it was not enough.

"They only save $10 a week and that's not enough to support their family back home and pay for the debt they incurred moving to New Zealand.

"For three months one of them just worked for two days, some of them have worked only four hours a week and some of them have not even had the opportunity to pick up their tools."

Mr Bennett said project delays around Auckland had prevented these workers from being immediately placed in a job.

He said most migrants recruited by AWF were working.

"There were less than 20 that weren't in long-term work where the workflow just didn't match up with the people when they arrived.

"There's been delays in some of the commercial high-rise in Auckland - Commercial Bay being one of them - and so we just weren't able to deploy them into those roles and some of them have been frustrated."

Mr Bennett said 10 of these workers had jobs starting next week.

Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin said three months was an unusually long time to have workers not working, and even though AWF was still paying them, it was a legal grey area.

"If a person has got a work visa that says they are to work as a carpenter, they're to work as a carpenter, the fact they might be getting paid you'd still have the argument to say 'well they're not actually doing the work so on what basis can they validly hold a visa'.

"In these circumstances I would expect Immigration New Zealand to be all over this."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said Immigration NZ was working with the Labour Inspectorate to investigate the claims regarding lack of work and the union clause.

He said officials had contacted AWF today.

On the union clause claim, he said there were a variety of things that could have happened.

"It's possible that the employment agreement that Immigration New Zealand saw was not exactly the employment agreement that the workers received... obviously we need to investigate the facts."