Wellington Scoop

Unions challenge 100 migrant workers brought in for Transmission Gully


Report from RNZ by Emma Hatton
A hundred workers have been brought in from the Philippines to work on Wellington’s huge Transmission Gully roading project, infuriating unions who insist there are locals who can do the job.

The Filipinos have been brought over to operate heavy machinery, like diggers and excavators.

But unions and the industry’s training organisation say with better planning the companies would not have to look overseas.

E Tū spokesperson Mark James said the project had been in the pipeline for decades, so there had been ample time to train a workforce.

“Certainly, I believe firmly that there’s Kiwis out there who could be doing these jobs,” he said. “They can’t say it just dropped out of the sky, they knew about this for a long time … they should have realised that they didn’t have the workforce and then they should have invested in it.”

The infrastructure industry’s training organisation agreed.

Connexis chief executive Peter Benfell said a lot of companies could be doing more to prepare a workforce, before taking on big projects.

“I think the planning needs to be better, both by the ultimate client – the asset owner – and their suppliers. I think it’s something as a country we’re pretty mixed at,” he said. “Sometimes due to changes the need to stop gap in different ways including bringing people in from overseas perhaps that is unavoidable but wouldn’t it be neat to see that happening a lot less.”

The workers have come over to fill the roles of civil construction plant operators, steel fixers and formwork carpenters.

Mr James said a lot of Kiwis would jump at the chance to do those jobs, but few employers invest in training them. He said too many companies favoured migrant labour because it was convenient.

“When did my son see an advertisement in the paper asking ‘apprentice carpenter wanted’? They’re not there. That’s because they know to get an apprentice carpenter from go to finish, takes at least four years. Employers are simply taking the easy way out.”

Amalgamated Workers Union secretary Maurice Davis said there were plenty of New Zealanders ready and willing to work if they could get the training.

“This idea that we can’t find workers, well hang on there’s 90,000 people sitting at home in New Zealand doing nothing. So, there might be 10,000 or 20,000 who actually may be interested in it.”

Mr Benfell said one way forward was to make training and investment in workers a condition when companies go to tender for a project.

“It will encourage those companies that are taking those sort of practices at the moment, I think it will encourage them to take a longer term approach to it and invest more in their people.”

The company contracted to build the road – a joint venture between CPB Contractors and HEB Construction – contracts out to almost 400 other companies, who each manage their own employees.

Mr Benfell said some of those companies were involved in training new workers.

“There is a pretty significant number of trainees and training going on in the sub-contractors to that project.”

CPB HEB project director Boyd Knights said they tried hard to find locals before applying to Immigration to bring in the workers.

“Despite a recruitment drive, including ongoing advertisements in key national daily papers and working with a number of recruitment agencies, the project has been unable to access enough of the right skill sets locally to support construction.”

He said they trained and invested in their workers.

“One third of staff directly employed as labourers, are currently undergoing training to become plant operators for the project.

“We partner with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), which includes employment of job seekers currently on a benefit scheme. In addition, the project secured funding from MSD to deliver a two-week civil construction induction programme with the assistance of the New Zealand Defence Force.”

He said the workers had been offered permanent jobs, so were expected to stay until the completion of the project in 2020.


  1. Ollie, 20. April 2018, 13:55

    What’s missing from this report is any interview or comment from any of the Filipino workers themselves. Playing the “migrant workers” card is populist clickbait, and treating them as “the other” is insensitive and ignores the human element involved. These are real people, often with families back home that they are supporting while they are away from for years at a time. I’ve met a Filipino man who works hard and solid hours on Transmission Gully, and this is his situation. He’s loving the opportunity to work here given our better wages and working conditions, making far more than he could in the Philippines.

    The reality is, skilled workers from developing countries are often willing to work for much lower wages than New Zealanders with the same skill sets. The New Zealand minimum wage, let alone what we pay skilled construction workers, would be an absolute dream come true for billions of people around the world (to be clear, I’m not implying that TG workers are paid minimum wage, which I know is not true). This is the global economic reality that we can’t ignore. As a business decision, it is entirely understandable to get the best value for money by employing people who are willing to work for lower wages than New Zealanders feel they are entitled to, and it’s better for the Filipinos as well who make the money.

    A second reality is the construction boom in New Zealand right now means there aren’t enough local skilled workers to do the work that needs to happen now. The previous government did basically nothing to encourage the construction sector to take on the vast numbers of apprentices that would be needed to fill the shortages. Big projects can’t afford to sit around waiting for 3 years for New Zealanders to get qualified and fill the current shortage.

    Fair enough that the unions raise this with the Government as a broader issue, but calling out a single project (Transmission Gully) when this issue is system-wide is not fair.

  2. Arnold, 21. April 2018, 23:33

    As long as our governments continue to support unfettered immigration from third world countries,we will remain a low wage economy,with disproportionately high housing costs due to rapid population growth.

  3. D. J. Vu, 22. April 2018, 10:26

    @Arnold, we need more foreign workers to build more infrastructure for a higher population…..Sounds like a pyramid scheme to me? Hey did the Pharaohs employ unionised labour?

  4. steve doole, 23. April 2018, 22:28

    Undermining local workers with foreign labour is a classic trick. Britain and Australia do this, but not Norway and Sweden, and look at the resulting performance difference. A low minimum wage doesn’t help kiwis either.
    Trade training has to be an easy one to fix. Why not roll some ‘universities’ back to being technical colleges?