Labour hire firm employee resigns after migrant worker investigation

A Newshub investigation into migrant workers brought to New Zealand to help with Auckland's construction boom has led to the resignation of a manager at one of the country's biggest labour hire firms. 

AWF's divisional manager Kurt Reed has stepped down after signing part of an employment contract which was illegal.

Newshub can reveal Reed has a history of dishonesty - he admitted charges of theft after more than $160,000 went missing from the Ashburton District Council. 

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"They'd be very hard working, productive people with good English skills and good technical skills," said AWF's Kurt Reed in the Philippines in 2015, selling New Zealand on the local TV news as a destination in need of workers.

But for the group of workers who arrived in January, there's been nothing but disappointment. Many say they've only worked one or two days since arriving.

The biggest issue was the contract they brought with them - and a clause which says their contracts will be terminated if they engage with unions. 

Kurt Reed signed off on the document which is illegal. It's believed 99 workers ended up signing it. 

AWF & Madison Group CEO Simon Bennett says Reed has stepped down. 

"He acknowledges the mistake that he made and is very upset about it," Mr Bennett said, adding that he didn't suggest Reed resign. 

14 years ago, Reed pleaded guilty to charges of theft after his law firm failed to pay more than $168,000 to the Ashburton District Council over the sale of council properties. 

Reed was subsequently struck off as a lawyer. 

Mr Bennett says he was not CEO when Reed was employed. He said he was made aware of Reed's background, and didn't rule out other AWF staff facing sanctions. Mr Bennett added that he accepts some of the responsibility of what's happened. 

Immigration New Zealand is investigating AWF.

The union representing the workers says the company should be stripped of its ability to recruit overseas workers. 

"We are not satisfied with that resignation. I believe the Government must ensure that AWF will actually lose its employer accreditation," said Dennis Maga, First Union General Secretary.

As for the workers themselves, three are now taking legal action against AWF, claiming they didn't get paid for the first month they were in the country. The men are also in the process of leaving the company. 

A worker told Newshub he has been offered employment and is "very happy for that". 

"Maybe that will be the stepping stone of new changes for my life here in New Zealand," he said.

Newshub was told another 20 workers are also hoping to leave AWF and work with other employers.

Mr Bennett says he's doing his best to get all AWF's migrant staff into full time work.

Labour MP Kieran McAnulty introduced a new Amendment Bill at Parliament on Wednesday to crack down on exploitative labour hire companies.

"The number of examples I've been given to the point where I've presented this to the House was quite shocking. The worse example I've heard is of a woman who found out she was pregnant and that got dismissed the next day. That's outrageous," he said.

Mr McAnulty says the new law will mean any worker who is contracted out by a labour hire firm to another employer will have the same rights. 

"All it would do would be to ensure the rights and protections that the rest of us take for granted also apply to these workers."


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