Wellington Scoop

$3 an hour for Chinese at Hutt railway workshops? Wage records not available

News from First Union
The government must guarantee New Zealanders that Chinese engineers working on KiwiRail’s locomotives are at least receiving the minimum wage, says Rail and Maritime Transport Union spokesperson Todd Valster.

“Last year the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment launched an investigation into allegations that Chinese workers at the Hutt Railway Workshops were being paid as little as $3 an hour”.

“Yet the investigation hit a dead end. It has been revealed that the company undertaking warranty work on KiwiRail’s new locomotives – China CNR Corporation – refused to surrender its wage records to New Zealand authorities” says Todd Valster.

“KiwiRail’s Chinese-built locomotives needed warranty work because the manufacturers had used asbestos in the engine rooms and cabs”.

“This situation would not have happened if KiwiRail commissioned locally assembled locomotives. Building and assembling locomotives could have happened at KiwiRail’s Hutt Workshops” says Todd Valster.

“Outsourcing must stop. Will the CEO of KiwiRail and the Minister of Transport outsource their jobs next or buy asbestos riddled cars” asks Todd Valster.

“The Chinese engineers are doing warranty work, but that should not mean KiwiRail can avoid its responsibility to ensure compliance with New Zealand wage standards. It is a repeat of the foreign fishing vessels and the exploitation of migrant workers. All companies and all employees working in New Zealand must be covered under New Zealand’s labour laws. The RMTU is calling for a new investigation with greater powers.”

News from MBIE
The Labour Inspectorate in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has concluded an investigation into allegations by Labour MP Trevor Mallard around Chinese workers at KiwiRail and could not identify any welfare issues or find evidence of breaches of New Zealand minimum employment standards law.

Labour Inspectorate General Manager George Mason says it was also more than likely that New Zealand employment law would not apply as the workers were China-based and here only temporarily for work.

“Taking all these factors into account, the Labour Inspectorate has decided that no further action is warranted and the investigation is now closed,” Mr Mason says. “The workers said during our investigation that they were paid for each day that they were in New Zealand. They did not work on New Zealand public holidays and when they were sick.

“The Labour Inspector was unable to determine whether the workers received remuneration equivalent to at least the New Zealand minimum wage as the workers and their employers Yongji and Dalian Loco declined to provide wage records, on the basis of privacy. Regardless, it is more than likely New Zealand employment law does not apply to these workers as they are based in China and here only temporarily for work,” Mr Mason says.

The investigation found:
• The workers received regular breaks during the working day that would allow them rest, have a meal and to attend to personal matters.
• The workers lived in accommodation that met their needs and had regular access to food.
• No evidence to support allegations they lived in cramped conditions or allegations suggesting they had limited access to food.
• Their employer paid for their travel, insurance, accommodation and gave them a daily allowance for food and other expenses. KiwiRail provided them lunch each day.
• They were paid for each day that they were in New Zealand. They did not work on New Zealand public holidays and when they were sick.

News from TVOne
Labour MP for Hutt South, Trevor Mallard, has called for KiwiRail to immediately stop allowing further Chinese engineers to work in New Zealand until there’s a guarantee they’re being paid the New Zealand minimum wage.

Mr Mallard was responding to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment findings from an investigation into his concerns that the Chinese engineers were being exploited.

Mr Mallard says the findings “stink of a cover up”.

“China CNR Corporation have refused to give the ministry (MBIE) their wage records. If they had nothing to hide, these records would be made available immediately,” he says. “If wage records don’t exist, that is evidence of a breach of our labour laws,” Mr Mallard says.

News from NZCTU
Chinese rail engineers currently working in New Zealand are being short-changed their rightful wage entitlements under New Zealand labour law, the Council of Trade Unions said today.

The workers are here carrying repair work on KiwiRail’s locomotives, and government officials have been unable to determine what their pay rates are, after being refused wage records, and have decided to discontinue their investigation.

“Fair minded New Zealanders would reach the conclusion that if these workers are here in New Zealand carrying out work on our trains, they should be covered by our labour laws,” said Sam Huggard, Secretary, Council of Trade Unions.

“The government’s working assumption should be that New Zealand law covers these workers and until this assumption is proved otherwise the labour inspectorate should proceed on that basis and investigate these concerns further.”

“We know there is a real problem with migrant exploitation in New Zealand, with migrant workers not being paid their minimum entitlements. Although these engineers aren’t migrant workers, there are a lot of the same problems in this case,” Sam Huggard said.

Sam Huggard said that the problems with the asbestos-containing locomotives would have been avoided entirely had they been built locally in rail engineering facilities in Lower Hutt and Dunedin.