Exclusive: Migrant construction workers languishing in crowded Auckland houses on illegal contracts

A Newshub investigation has found migrant workers flown here specifically to help with Auckland's construction boom have barely picked up their tools.

They arrived more then three months ago, but some have only been given two days' work in that time. Instead of building houses they've been going fishing to feed themselves.

New Zealand is desperately in need of more construction workers, with the Government estimating up to 56,000 extra workers are needed over the next five years.

A group of 16 Filipino carpenters, welders and steel fixers who were brought here by AWF - one of the country's biggest labour hire firms - has spoken to Newshub about their situation.

They say being here is a "waste of time" because they're not being put to work - and Newshub has also discovered the contracts they signed were illegal.

On a weekday afternoon when construction workers should be hard at work, the men were instead hanging around their home playing guitar and eating fried chicken.

"I have experienced two days of working within three months of staying here in New Zealand," one worker told Newshub.

Another had also only worked two days in three months.

One worker, a steel fixer, says he hasn't picked up his tools once since arriving in late January.

They're here to build Kiwi homes and medium to large-scale commercial buildings in Auckland.

The CEO of Allied Workforce (AWF), the company that brought the men in, says getting them into work depends on timing and what projects are available.

"We have to understand that it is based upon the needs of projects and the needs of our clients," says Simon Bennett.

Despite not working, the men are still being paid 30 hours a week - the minimum pay as outlined in their contract.

After paying rent on their house, loan repayments on their vehicles and rent on the tools some have never used, there's little or nothing left over after pay day.

"We live [on] nothing," one man says. "We can't even send money to the Philippines. That's the great problem."

"We feel like we are being used by this company," says another. "Please if you don't have enough job for us, let us go."

Lack of money means the men often have to go fishing for their food.

When they arrived in New Zealand, as many as 24 men ended up crammed into a four-bedroom house which one man describes as "like a prison cell".

But AWF says it's not responsible for housing its workers - that's the job of another company.

"It doesn't sound ideal for anybody, whether I have brought them in or whether they are somebody local, to be in an overcrowded house," says Mr Bennett.

He denies any knowledge of the workers' living situation.

Newshub checked with Auckland Council, which confirmed AWF had to take action after complaints about overcrowding at the address.

But it's an addendum to their employment contracts, which is perhaps the most worrying issue. It states they can be terminated for "engaging in trade union activities" - and that's illegal.

"We are very concerned about this," says First Union general secretary Dennis Maga. "Not only with AWF - we are also concerned about how come Immigration NZ allowed this to happen."

When Newshub raised the issue of the illegal addendum in the workers' contracts - documents that were signed by AWF staff members - with Mr Bennett, he asked that filming be stopped while he reviewed the document.

He says there's no reason why AWL would stipulate that workers are not to contact or engage with union activities, and that he wants to investigate the matter further.

"Look I'm surprised, and that's why I was really happy to talk to you because we've had a good experience with migrant labour as we have with local labour," he says.

After the interview Mr Bennett contacted Newshub to say that the document is not part of any offer his company makes to overseas workers.

That's despite it being on AWF letterhead and having an AWF's manager's signature on it.

Mr Bennett says he doesn't know how many people could be affected by the illegal document, but that AWF brought over 99 Filipino workers this year.

If you have further information contact Michael Morrah at michaelmorrah@mediaworks.co.nz.