25 Mar 2009

Migrant job claim may raise valid point - minister

8:53 am on 25 March 2009

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman says a welder who objected to his former employer firing New Zealand workers while retaining migrant staff may have raised a valid point.

New Plymouth resident Stephen Bovett says he was laid off from MCK Metals Pacific two weeks before Christmas, while three workers on temporary visas were carrying out welding duties he himself was capable of.

Mr Bovett says a total of nine Filipino welders were hired two years ago for specialised welding and polishing duties for an overseas contract.

He says that contract fell through within weeks, so six of the migrant workers were moved to unskilled factory duties, while the remaining three took up general welding tasks.

Mr Bovett says Immigration New Zealand eventually sanctioned the move to use the Filipino staff on general duties, which he describes as unacceptable in a recession.

Jonathan Coleman says if Immigration New Zealand knew at the time it allowed the migrant staff to move to other duties that the company was looking at making other workers redundant, the change would not have been allowed.

He says the authority issued the "variation of conditions" permits in October.

However, he says the Immigration New Zealand report on the matter raises more questions than it answers and he will be speaking to officials over the next few days.

In a written statement, the company's chief executive, Pramod Khatri, said the company had to react to the worsening economy.

He said the skills of the Filipino workers would allow it to bid for lucrative contracts, which would put it in a better position to retain current staff and create jobs.

Mr Khatri says the migrant workers are doing general duties, but only when there is not enough specialised work for them. He maintains he has met all Department of Immigration requirements.

Dr Coleman says the Government will control labour demands during the recession through the visa system and it is unlikely temporary work visas will be issued or renewed because it puts New Zealand workers and jobs first.

He says the Government wants people who are going to build long-term skills in the country, and will will continue to bring in permanent immigrants.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union is looking into how MCK Metals chose workers for redundancy before deciding whether to take legal action.

The Labour Party says New Zealand workers should always be given preference and the company's actions are unacceptable.