BWI General Secretary meets NZ Labour Minister

02 March 2019 15:11

On 25 February BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson met with the New Zealand Labour and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway in Wellington, discussing proposals to strengthen labour and immigration laws, particularly in light of growing demand for construction and wood sector workers to address the country’s housing crisis.

“The new Government has already made impressive strides in rolling back the right-wing reforms imposed on working people over the last decade”, said Yuson after the meeting. “However, there is still much to be done to develop a coherent worker voice within our sectors, where decades of subcontracting have put workers in a vulnerable position.”

Yuson was also joined by E Tū Assistant National Secretary John Ryall and Senior National Industrial Officer Paul Tolich, as well as BWI Asia-Pacific Regional Representative Apolinar Tolentino. E Tū is the largest private sector union in New Zealand with coverage in the construction sector; the name E Tū is Māori for ‘stand tall’. 

Housing will be a key focus area in the coming years.  New Zealand currently has the highest rate of homelessness in the OECD, while housing prices in Auckland are fourth-highest in the world. The Government has embarked on the ambitious ‘Kiwibuild’ programme to build 100,000 additional affordable houses in the next ten years, setting out a pathway to overcome the current capacity and skills shortage.

“Kiwibuild is a laudable goal and working people certainly need affordable housing; the challenge will be in ensuring a balance between training local workers and providing migrant workers with decent employment,” said Yuson. 

Noting that millions of unprocessed logs are being exported each year, Yuson stated, “New Zealand needs to consider how to divert that into building a sustainable and effective modular housing construction supply chain based on locally-harvest timber products.”

Lees-Galloway noted that the Government was taking the issue of migrant worker exploitation very seriously, citing the historical experiences of the Christchurch rebuild. The Minister noted that his Ministry was currently undertaking nationwide research to get a clearly understanding of how the drivers of exploitation play out in the New Zealand setting, and Yuson was able to offer clear advice on how to shift the obligation on enforcing the prohibition on recruitment fees onto the employer. 

“Over the last decade the New Zealand property market had become a plaything for wealthy investors and the construction industry has been allowed to neglect its obligation to train tomorrow’s workforce,” said Yuson. 

He continued: “Our affiliates E Tū and FIRST Union will work with the Government to develop a modern industry that puts the needs of working people first, providing affordable housing while creating good jobs and combatting exploitation.”