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Foreign worker hire defended
By ABBIE NAPIER
Christchurch-based Leighs Con-
struction has spoken out against
those who insist construction com-
panies hire local labour, saying
there are not enough Kiwis to fill
its rebuild jobs in Christchurch.
The family-owned company has
netted some major construction
contracts in the last year and with
jobs to fill, is successfully recruit-
Company director Anthony
Leighs said there were not enough
skilled carpenters in Christ-
We just can't hire enough
people in Christchurch, we would
if we could. We're trying very hard
to hire New Zealanders, but they
He has hired 25 Filipino carpen-
ters who started work last month.
He said he did not know of any
carpenters in Christchurch who
were unemployed or wanted to
If there's unemployed carpen-
ters out there, with the right set of
skills, come and knock on our
door, we would gladly take you.
There's a lot happening in
Christchurch, momentum is build-
ing. There is massive pressure on
New Zealand construction,'' he
said. There's a huge demand for
Some people have called for
more local hires and have said for-
eign workers were popular with
companies because they could be
paid less than New Zealanders.
That is a ridiculous suggestion,
absolute rubbish,'' Mr Leighs said.
His company had spent a huge
sum on overseas recruitment
already this year. His Filipino
staff were paid exactly the same''
as their Kiwi counterparts.
The company also paid for Kiwi
recruiters, some living for months
overseas. Leighs paid for recruits'
flights and accommodation,
recruitment fees and moving costs
-- running into six figures.
It's no cheap exercise I can
assure you. We don't just pick up
a phone and call the Philippines.''
With no set deadline in mind,
Mr Leighs was hoping to have
another group of foreign workers
on his books next year.
The Philippines is traditionally
one of the largest providers of
export labour all over the world.
Many workers had strong lan-
guage skills, exceptional trade
skills and a good work ethic.
Leighs had not promoted New
Zealand residency as part of its
foreign employment contracts but
did expect some high achievers to
rise through the company ranks
beyond their first two-year stint.
WORK ETHIC: John Ordonez hard at work at the Christchurch Women's Hospital.
By ABBIE NAPIER
with his wife and
in the Philippines.
JOHN ORDONEZ touched down
in New Zealand a month ago,
leaving behind four children, a
wife and an elderly father.
He is one of 25 Filipino carp-
enters hired by Leighs Construc-
John, 39, has spent years in
the construction industry and
this is his fourth international
He will spend the next two
years more than 8000 kilo-
metres from family in Manila
but is loving it here already.
I love this job,'' he said. Here
we can earn a lot of money com-
pared to some other countries I
have been to.''
John sends home almost all of
his pay to support his family,
keeping the bare minimum for
his living expenses. Two days
before he left for New Zealand
his first son was born.
It is very hard to leave them
behind,'' he said. But there is no
choice. In the Philippines the
opportunities are not many.
That's why we're here.''
John speaks excellent Eng-
lish, a language offered in most
Filipino schools due to the coun-
try's high labour export levels.
His last job was in Japan
where conditions were terrible''.
Safety was basically ignored.
John crossed between buildings
on pieces of four-by-two wood,
suspended several stories high.
When framing a wall, he started
at the bottom, climbing the wall
as he went, dangling with no
safety measures in place.
In Japan, the safety is only in
their mouth, not in their actions.
We are so pleased to be here
because everything we do, they
tell us the safe way to do it, it's
John and his 24 countrymen
live at a forestry camp-ground
provided by Leighs.
They have given us every-
thing,'' John said. A pool, a big
screen TV. They even bought us
the cooking utensils.''
He has never been provided
for to such a high level.
Leighs Construction put more
than 450 Filipino applicants
through their paces in Manila,
whittling the number down to
the top 25 through trade tests
They wanted the best of the
best. When I was doing the trade
test, I wanted the job so badly
my hand was shaking the whole
time,'' John said.
My pressure is not for the
work, it's supporting my family.
I was very nervous.''
He will probably not return
home for the duration of his con-
tract because the air fare would
be better spent helping his fam-
ily. During previous contracts,
John has often had to pay high
costs to accept the job -- recruiter
fees, air fares and visa costs.
Sometimes he would have little
to send home for the first six
months of work.
Leighs have paid for every-
thing to help their new employ-
ees come to New Zealand.
John's eldest daughter is at
university studying entrepren-
eurship and the younger two are
already part-way through their
For me, it's about education.
Then they can make their own
decisions,'' he said.
Leighs have installed six com-
puters at the camp -- complete
with Skype -- which John and
his friends make frequent use of.
This is very much appreci-
ated, especially by our families.
They're very good back home
because we are good here.
We always used to say on
Skype how our boss was ter-
rible,'' he said. But now they
can see us smiling every time we
use Skype and I think it reduces
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