Immigration permit importation of 138 Chinese tradies

A co-owned Chinese construction company has been granted immigration approval to import 138 workers into Auckland.

 A company will import 138 Chinese trades workers to finish building an Auckland hotel, despite unions refusing to support their employment contracts.

On Wednesday Immigration New Zealand accepted the request to bring in the workers made by Auckland Hotel Fitout, a company co-owned by Singaporean-owned company Fu Wah New Zealand and Chinese company LBY International Engineering.

Its original request for an approval in principal (AIP) licence lodged in Christchurch in February, asked to import 174 workers from China to complete the $200 million Park Hyatt hotel development on Auckland’s waterfront.

The number of roles to fill had reduced since the application was lodged.

The roles to be filled by migrants included painters, tilers, joinery fixers, wall paper hangers, carpet layers,carpenters and welders.

Immigration assistant general manager Peter Elms said the imported workers would be paid between $26 and $35 an hour, $1 more than the minimum hourly pay rate in the workers’ employment contracts shown to unions earlier this year.

Immigration consults with unions and Work and Income before accepting AIP applications.

E tū union and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions both refused to support Auckland Hotel Fitout’s request because they deemed its employment contracts for the workers exploitative.

E tū spokesman Joe Gallagher said the original $25 pay rate was not good enough to attract local tradespeople.

At a meeting in February, Auckland Hotel Fitout’s lawyer would not budge on their pay, Gallagher said.

He said it was interesting that the workers’ pay was bumped up after media reported on the application.

Gallagher was disappointed that workers needed to imported to fill practical trades jobs.

“It still breaks my heart that we are having to bring these people in from overseas.”

The workers would need to pass health and character tests to be issued the work visas that would allow them to be in New Zealand until March next year.

Elms said Immigration was satisfied Auckland Hotel Fitout would pay the market rate for migrants.

“It’s a fundamental principle that migrant workers have the same employment rights and protections as all other workers in New Zealand, including [being paid] the market rate for the relevant job.”

Companies must prove they genuinely attempted to hire locally before being granted the licence to recruit offshore consistently.

Auckland Hotel Fitout’s original AIP application, released to Stuff under the Official Information Act, said the imported workers would be paid for all of the 40 hours they worked each week, and time and half on public holidays worked.

Their hourly rate was redacted.

The company would not provide the workers with accommodation. They would be required to pay for housing and transport costs themselves, the application said.

However, “suitable accommodation at a reasonable rate” and transport to and from the building site would be organised via two agencies, Hihero and Working In, the application said.

The company advertised the roles online in New Zealand for one month from December 20.

Candidates were required to have five years experience fitting out five-star hotels.

No New Zealand citizens or residents applied for the jobs, the application said. Twenty foreign applicants were interviewed. It is not known if any of the candidates were given a job.

Fu Wah had hired trades workers through Hawkins Construction previously but said there was now a “severe shortage of skilled labour.”

The company claimed the completion of its hotel to be of “national importance” because it would help to fill Auckland’s anticipated accommodation shortage during the America’s Cup in 2021.