Immigrant construction workers prompt anger over skills shortage

Drive 21/04/2018
Photo: File.

One hundred Filipino workers have been employed to help build Wellington’s Transmission Gully roading project, much to the dismay of New Zealand’s trade union.

The immigrant workers have been brought over to operate heavy machinery for the project.

E Tū spokesperson Mark James told RadioLIVE that immigrant workers benefit trade employers because they are cheaper.

An immigrant is shackled to that employer.

While immigrant workers typically get paid around $24 dollars an hour, Mr James cited that their Kiwi counterparts make $34 an hour to do the exact same work.

He said the economic benefit of using immigrant workers “drives these sorts of decisions”.

Immigrant workers are also unlikely to switch employers for more competitive pay, Mr James explained.

“An immigrant is shackled to that employer,” he told Ryan Bridge and Lisa Owen. “If they change their employer, their visa is revoked and they have to go back.”

One expert says the problem lies in insufficient training of Kiwi workers.

New Zealand needs to invest in training

Warwick Quinn, CEO of Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation, is calling for the Government to provide incentives for employers to train local workers.   

“If training is too difficult, [employers will] turn to the immigration system to get the workers,” said Mr Quinn.

“No Government wants to stop growth in New Zealand so they turn the immigration tap on.”

The Government has confirmed that its KiwiBuild programme will require sourcing migrant tradespeople to build the homes, largely because New Zealand does not have enough qualified construction workers.

Mr Quinn admitted that while projects like KiwiBuild won’t be able to completely avoid immigrant workers, the Government can’t simply avoid incentivising training for employers.

“We need a really flexible and responsive training system that encourages employers to train.

“And at the moment it’s 25 years old and doesn’t have the characteristics it needs to.“

Listen to the full interview with Mark James and Warwick Quinn above.

Drive with Ryan Bridge and Lisa Owen, 3pm - 6pm Weekdays and streaming live on'rova' channel 9 - available on Android and iPhone.