By 3 News online staff
A test case is being taken to the Employment Relations Authority to see whether Chinese engineers removing asbestos from KiwiRail locomotives are covered by New Zealand law.
The Rail and Maritime Transport Union is taking the case to court tomorrow after allegations of exploitation emerged from a Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment investigation.
It was claimed the 27 workers, brought to New Zealand to fix asbestos in 40 locomotives built by state-owned CNR Dalian Locomotive, were paid as little as $3 an hour.
The eight-month investigation couldn't verify the claim because the Chinese companies refused to provide pay details, and ministry wasn't sure whether New Zealand law even applied to them.
Union general secretary Wayne Butson says the court should make the situation clearer.
"If our law doesn't apply to foreign workers carrying out work on New Zealand soil, what's stopping other companies from replacing their local workers with cheap labour from overseas?
"If the Government had taken a long-term view and invested in local locomotive workshops like Hillside in Dunedin then we wouldn't be in this mess."
Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse has previously said the status of the workers could only be tested by the court.