Chinese carpenters forced to live in 'abysmal' Tauranga garage

Newshub can reveal six Chinese carpenters brought here to help with the construction boom ended up living - potentially illegally - in a garage for five weeks.

The workers say a Chinese recruitment agent, who's currently under investigation, arranged the accommodation for them.

Inside the single-car garage in central Tauranga was a basin, fridge, toaster and a table. It's apparently suitable lodgings for six grown men.

A former worker for labour-hire firm National Personnel Limited - or NPL -says conditions inside were "pretty abysmal".

"Don't think even a dog would live in those conditions," he told Newshub.

NPL used to have a business relationship with agent Peter Li, who helped bring in Chinese carpenters for the company.

"The guys were cooking off the ground - off those gas cookers off the ground. No bathroom, no toilets," the former NPL worker says.

"I was shocked that that happens in New Zealand."

NPL told Newshub it employed a total of 38 Chinese carpenters.

But when it comes to the garage the company says it "had nothing to do with this accommodation" and those staying there were "working for another employer".

We tracked down three of those who were put up in the garage.

They say Mr Li arranged it, but some workers were dropped off there by a representative of NPL.

"I lived on the sofa - no bed. I initially had no job, so I just had to accept the conditions," says carpenter Jianjun Haung.

Another carpenter, Yungping Liang, says for three weeks while at the garage he had no work at all.

"We each paid $120 per week," he says.

The Tauranga City Council didn't know whether the garage was approved for residential purposes or not, but told Newshub "there is no building consent on record that mentions a sleep-out".

"We didn't really have any choice. I thought I was lucky as at that time I had a job. Others didn't have a job," carpenter Xinjian Xu says.

We visited another Tauranga flat where the tenants told us the Chinese carpenters who used to stay there were also struggling.

The flatmates say the workers eventually ran out of money because they were not being paid when they were not on the job and they had to go fishing to get food.

All the men say they signed contracts with NPL before arriving in New Zealand.

But Newshub has learned that on arrival they were taken by Mr Li to another Tauranga labour hire firm and told to sign another set of documents. They say they didn't understand what they were signing.

Mr Li is accused by the workers of charging each of them up to $43,000 as a fee for getting them to New Zealand - claiming they'd have consistent paid work.

Newshub has tried contacting Mr Li by phone and email to discuss their plight - he hasn't responded.


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