Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Quake rebuild delays drive workers out of Christchurch

File photo / Geoff Sloan
File photo / Geoff Sloan

Tradesmen and builders are leaving Christchurch in frustation over a lack of work and continuing delays to the quake-hit city's reconstruction.

Although recruitment agencies continue to advertise overseas for qualified tradespeople to help with the devastated city's rebuild, local workers say there's not enough work to go around as it is.

The Certified Builders Association of New Zealand says its members are showing "frustration, bewilderment and concern'' that jobs are being offered to overseas workers when they are struggling to find work themselves.

Chief executive Grant Florence reported that one of his members has had to let go between 30 and 40 staff from their building firm over the last few months.

After the quakes started to settle down, contractors had geared up with extra equipment and staff ahead of an expected boom in business, he said.

But they have now had to downsize after delays, caused by a "myriad of reasons'', including ongoing shakes, insurance wrangles, and engineering issues over land condition.

"We're more than 12 months down the line, and there's a level of mounting frustration, bewilderment and concern.

"There is especially concern where we see various agencies and bodies seemingly recruiting people from other parts of New Zealand from offshore,'' Mr Florence said.

"My guys are coming to me and saying, 'we've got too many people ourselves'.

"There's been a number of situations where we have had contractors gear themselves up with equipment and people, and due to lack of work, and slow start, they've had to let people go.''

He accepted that maybe the recruitment agencies were also anticipated more work, but while local workers were still struggling to find employment, he described the situation as "bewildering''.

"Many have decided to head offshore, and up to Auckland, to get work, but whether they come back when things pick up, I'm not sure,'' Mr Florence said.

Latest figures from Statistics New Zealand show that 600 people left Christchurch in April to live abroad.

Many construction workers are reportedly heading across the Tasman where they can earn around three times what they would in Canterbury. New Zealand Institute of Building national president Samir Govind said local employers cannot match the money offered overseas.

"We obviously can't compete with higher Australian wages and if people want more money, then they'll go after it.''

Mr Govind said the rebuild had been "slower than expected'' but was confident that work will soon pick up.

"It will happen, it's just a question of timing really,'' he said.

Yesterday it was revealed that foreign nationals who have travelled to Christchurch to assist with the rebuild have complained of difficulty in getting a New Zealand visa.

Labour MP Lianne Dalziel called last week for Christchurch to be exempted from typical visa requirements in order to expedite the city's recovery but the Earthquake Commission (EQC), says New Zealand workers will be considered for positions before overseas labour.

"We've made it very clear we want to exhaust all possible avenues within New Zealand,'' said David Peterson, general manager of Fletcher EQR, contracted to the EQC.

"We've looked to recruit from Canterbury specifically initially, then wider South Island, then wider New Zealand.''

The EQC has accredited almost 14,000 workers to assist with the clean-up yet just 312 visas have been granted, the New Zealand Visa Bureau reported.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive Roger Sutton said from his own observations talking to workers inside the red zone, the "overwhelming number are locals or former Cantabrians who have come home''.

He said: "I would question some of the rhetoric. Are people genuinely leaving for work and money reasons alone? And is that hugely different to pre-quake activity?

"It is a $30 billion rebuild - of course the local labour market can't do it all.

"But when I look around the local contractors who are working flat out, I definitely see Cantabrians working hard alongside all the people we need to help us get the job done.''

- NZ Herald

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