Accountability for Chinese construction workers remains up in the air

3:49 pm on 4 March 2019

Seven months after nearly 50 Chinese construction workers were left without jobs, both the company they were supposed to work for and the man who brought them over are pointing the blame at each other.

A group of chinese workers who came to New Zealand after being promised work by Peter Li and NPL

A group of Chinese workers who came to New Zealand after being promised work by Peter Li and NPL. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In December, RNZ reported the group's concerns about a man called Peter Li (also known as Li Wenshan), who they paid tens of thousands of dollars for work visas.

They could only work for the labour hire company National Personnel Limited (NPL) which finds contractors for construction firms.

But when the group arrived in July and August last year, there was little or no work.

They were eventually kicked out of their accomodation and now some are left with visa issues.

In a statement to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), NPL said it did not know or approve of the Chinese workers Mr Li brought over.

The company held an Agreement in Principle with Immigration New Zealand which meant workers it brought over were subject to a lower level of scrutiny from authorities.

NPL claimed it only learnt for the first time in September 2018 that all 45 of the Chinese workers had arrived in the country.

"[Peter Li] acted outside of his authorised scope," submitted NPL.

"The company cannot be held responsible for the unauthorised acts of [Mr Li]."

NPL said it had treated the workers "fairly and in good faith".

Free accomodation was given to them in Takanini in Auckland on a temporary basis but the company said the situation eventually "got out of hand".

"[The workers] who were residing at the Takanini premises started to invite other workers to stay for free," said NPL.

"This led to the overcrowding of the premises."

NPL told the workers to leave and issued trespass notices to those who did not.

The company said it currently employed 34 Chinese builders but 11 others had been "deliberating 'hiding' from or disengaging" with them.

Peter Li had authority to hire workers - lawyer

In a statement to the ERA, Mr Li said he had invited Kevin O'Connor, one of the directors for NPL, to go to China to meet the workers and representatives of in June or early July.

"Mr O'Connor agreed to come to China for this purpose but did not do so," the statement read.

"In July 2018, Mr O'Connor went on holiday and [Mr Li] was unable to contact him."

Mr Li denied receiving any money from the workers and said they dealt with Chinese recruitment agencies.

He "did not deal directly with any of the [workers]" while they were in China, he said.

Mr Li said under agreements made with NPL, he had the authority to hire the workers and then also arrange work for them at other construction companies.

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