Migrant workers sacked by Auckland construction company after paying thousands for accredited work visas

From left to right: Guo You Cheng, Li Guan Yong and Feng Hong Jun were fired by D&T Action Ltd within six weeks of starting their construction jobs.
From left to right: Guo You Cheng, Li Guan Yong and Feng Hong Jun were fired by D&T Action Ltd within six weeks of starting their construction jobs. Photo credit: RNZ

Lucy Xia for RNZ

Three Chinese migrant workers who were sacked within a month of each other by the same Auckland employer are the latest among at least 100 workers who are unemployed after paying thousands of dollars for their accredited employer work visas (AEWV).

As of May this year, over 63,075 people entered New Zealand under the scheme, which was designed to reduce exploitation.

But since September last year, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has received 694 employment complaints linked to accredited employers, with more than half of those coming from Auckland.

As of the end of June, INZ had identified around 41 employers of "potential concern" involving migrant workers on accredited visas, but wouldn't comment on current investigations.

The three workers from Northern China had visas tied to the construction company D&T Action Ltd, and were brought here by the New Zealand based Immigration service company Co Plan Group Ltd, also known as Tai Le Consultancy (泰勒移民留学顾问公司), which sourced the workers from a labour export firm in China.

But the companies all denied any wrongdoing.

Carpenter Guo You Cheng, 44, borrowed more than $22,000 to pay a labour export company in China for his work visa.

Guo said he did an online interview with the Auckland-based Co Plan Group, but was sacked from his construction job in April - just after about a month-and-a-half on the job.

"It's been more than two months since I was fired, I've only had over a month worth of work, I can't describe in words the trauma I'm going through over these two months," said Guo, who hadn't been able to pay rent and had been relying on his family to send money.

Guo claimed he was told by his employer there wasn't enough work and was given a dismissal letter which said he was being let go within the trial period.

Guo's contract contained a 90-day-trial clause which said his job could terminate with one week's notice, however Guo claimed no one explained this to him when he signed an English contract which he couldn't read.

Looking back, Guo said there were early red flags. He claims he was threatened by his manager on his first day.

"He threatened us, saying, you guys are coming in batches, if you don't work well, I'll fire you. I've fired people before you, this person got fired, if any of you can't do the job, there's another batch coming at the end of the month", he said.

This made sense when Guo met two other workers from China who joined a week before he was sacked - and they were fired too after less than two weeks of work.

One of them was Feng Hong Jun who paid $17,000 to the same China-based labour-export firm and was also interviewed by the Co Plan Group.

Feng said he was also on a 90-day-trial he knew nothing about and was given the same reason for being dismissed - too many workers.

Feng said another few workers arrived from China to work for D&T Action just days after he was fired, and that they contacted him after they were dismissed.

"We come to New Zealand, and they fire him [Guo], and when the next batch comes, they fire us, it's like a rotation," he said.

Now he is left stranded and crippled by loans he took to pay for the opportunity.

"We're too scared to go home, back home the debt collectors are knocking on our doors everyday, but here we don't have work, what do we eat and drink? It's too hard," he said.

Li Guanyong, 37, is in the same situation, fired on the same day as Feng, and with Feng and Guo, they've banded together and lodged personal grievances against their former employer.

But the director of D&T Action, Dennis Yat Keung Lam, said the men didn't meet the company's standards, and under the 90-day-trial he could dismiss them.

Lam said he didn't do the interviews, leaving that to the Co Plan Group.

He said he doesn't know anything about the fees charged in China.

The company also denied threatening the workers.

Meanwhile, the three workers' employment advocate May Moncur said it was worrying that accredited employers were not being sufficiently monitored.

"They should report to immigration about how long those workers remain in their employment, and what's the reason for their departure if they're no longer working there, and how many workers are dismissed during a trial period," she said.

Moncur, who was also representing more than a dozen migrant workers in similar situations, said she had seen the 90 day trial period abused by companies and suggested that INZ should stop allowing employers to use it for migrant workers.

When asked for comment about the criticisms of the 90-day-trial period, INZ said it had nothing further to say on the matter.

It said it aimed to check around 15 percent of all accredited employers each year, but it had only started the checks in April this year.

As of mid-June, INZ had done post-accreditation checks for 257 out of over 23,000 accredited employers.

Figures from INZ show of the 694 complaints linked to accredited employers, 40 percent included allegations of migrant exploitation and about 20 percent pointed to possible immigration fraud.

The number of complaints had increased steadily since September last year, peaking at 131 complaints received in April.

The regions with the highest number of complaints were Auckland, 376, Wellington, 51, Waikato, 48 and Canterbury, 46.