Establishing an Employment Charter for construction companies is a critical step to strengthening the rights of migrant workers that are fast becoming the face of the Christchurch rebuild, according to an alliance of union groups.
The charter has the support of the Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG, a division of FIRST Union), the Engineers, Printers and Manufacturers Union (EPMU), and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU), as well as industry representatives.
The Christchurch Rebuild has meant a massive influx of skilled migrant workers, especially from the Philippines (there are estimated to now be between 2500 and 3000 Filipino construction workers in Christchurch). UNEMIG and the EPMU have dealt with many cases of migrant worker exploitation and intimidation in Canterbury.
Issues have included unlawfully withholding wages, overtime and holiday pay, extortionate placement fees and exit penalties, accommodation overcrowding, and high use of 90-day trial periods. The conditions of most migrant workers are much lower than New Zealand counterparts, and few have union access.
The Charter would covers issues around health and safety, employment conditions, training, pastoral care, accommodation, robust business practices, robust employment relations (including worker and union rights) and a commitment to workplace diversity, and would provide a positive framework where expectations are laid out for all participants.
“An employment charter would look to patching up some of the cracks which migrant workers are falling through,” said UNEMIG National Convener Dennis Maga.
“It’s shameful and unacceptable that we can’t control the level of migrant worker exploitation taking place in Canterbury”, said Paul Watson, CTU’s Canterbury Unions Earthquake Recovery Coordinator.
“It’s clear that we can’t address this problem without working together, and the Charter will provide some basic terms we can all agree on. We need Minister Bridges to act swiftly to endorse the charter as soon as possible to stop exploitation that is taking place right now.”