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Fly-in Chinese workers approved for Auckland hotel build

About 140 Chinese workers have been approved to complete a luxury Auckland hotel build following a highly-publicised and contentious Immigration NZ application process.

RNZ  first reported on the bid to have tradies flown in from China for the end-stages of the Fu Wah Auckland Park Hyatt Hotel build in the Wynyard Quarter in February.

At the time, a lot of attention focused on claims a local company had sought to provide the required workers through a subcontracting arrangement.

According to the company, which has not been identified by RNZ, it never heard back from the two main contractors in charge of the build when it expressed interest in 2016. 

"We went back and said 'Yes, everything's fine, things are going to be a little bit tight here, things will be fine here', but nothing major that would lead us to believe we'd been crossed off as a potential subcontractor," a company staff member said. 

"At that point in time, we more or less had a year or two to lock in labour resource, to build up the labour teams that we have if necessary. But we heard nothing for a couple of years, in fact we never even heard back in the end on whether we could tender for the main package."

The staff member also said in February the company still had enough workers to fill the job shortages for final stages of the hotel build.

A few weeks after that information went public, Newsroom also reported that an informal meeting between construction workers union E-Tū and Fu Wah lawyer Matt Robson took place over the visa application and required jobs.

According to E-Tū spokesman Joe Gallagher, Robson had disclosed that pay rates for the company's overseas workers had been set at three-quarters of the market rate.

One of the requirements for companies applying for work visa approval in cases like the Park Hyatt hotel build is that market rates are paid for jobs, and all employment standards are met. 

Today, Immigration NZ said the "approval in principal" application for 138 work visas for the final stages of the hotel build had been approved. The application was lodged by Fu Wah subsidiary company Auckland Fitout. Workers would be paid between $26 to $35 an hour, and would include painters, stone workers, tilers and joinery fixers.

Notably, the hourly rate that had been proposed to Gallagher in his meeting with Robson was $25. 

Immigration NZ spokesman Peter Elms said the number of visas required by Fu Wah had been reduced during the application process. 

"The workers will be recruited from China, with each work visa issued until March 1 2019. Regardless of the [application] approval, each visa will still be subject to health and character requirements.

"[The company] had to demonstrate that they had made a genuine effort to try and recruit New Zealanders to do the job, which INZ was satisfied they had done and demonstrated they would pay the market rate for people recruited from overseas," Elms said. 

Immigration NZ also consulted with Work and Income, and the Council of Trade Unions, about the availability of locals to do the work in its assessment of Fu Wah's visa application. 

Gallagher said he was unsurprised at news of the application's success. Overall, it highlighted wider problems around the lack of planning for New Zealand's labour force needs, he said. 

"I think that it's just unbelievable that .... we did nothing to invest in that skills shortage and that we have got to the point where we need to get all these workers from overseas."

There are ample numbers of young people that could, and should have, been trained in the trades years ago, he said.

"We need to be doing more to support our kids in New Zealand and build our internal pipeline, and that means really putting some serious energy and time in building our capacity and capability in our practical trades."

Read more: 

A more durable alternative to fly-in workers

Luxury hotel build bid accused of 'disingenuous tactics'

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