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Immigration to New Zealand: Migrant staff shocked following Buildhub liquidation

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Norma Schwenke is helping a group of former Buildhub employees from South America. Photo / Michael Craig

More than two dozen migrant workers at labour hire company, Buildhub, who used their life savings to move to New Zealand say their future is in limbo after the firm went into liquidation a week ago.

The company, an approved employer under Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme, has been actively recruiting migrant workers from South America.

It was also at the centre of an INZ investigation following allegations about duping migrant workers into coming to New Zealand on fake job contracts, but was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing earlier this month.

In a notice issued to employees on February 16 about the liquidation, Buildhub claimed employees had “stolen hours” from clients – marking more hours than worked.

South American migrant workers say they are still waiting to be paid following news of Buildhub's liquidation / Michael Craig
South American migrant workers say they are still waiting to be paid following news of Buildhub’s liquidation / Michael Craig

The letter also addressed issues the company claimed that contributed to the point where it had to be put in receivership.

The company said employees missed work on purpose, worked for “cash under the table” and had been directed by external organisations and individuals on “how to abuse the immigration system and apply for migrant exploitation visas”.

It also accused employees of sharing private and sensitive information “with a view to harm the reputation of the company”.

Previous director and major shareholder Mariela Andrea Ehijo Contreras resigned on February 9 following the appointment of Daniel Ramirez Ordas two days earlier.

The notice said after a long investigation, the company said INZ concluded from the information held by them from current and former employees “turned out to be false, fabricated or taken out of context”.

“Considering the insolvency risk BH finds itself in, the company has been put into liquidation.”

From left: Nicole Orostica and Victor Ortega with their daughter Victoria, 5, and Camila Ortega. Photo / Michael Craig
From left: Nicole Orostica and Victor Ortega with their daughter Victoria, 5, and Camila Ortega. Photo / Michael Craig

According to the Companies Register, Gareth Russel Hoole of Ecovis KGA has been appointed liquidator.

Norma Schwenke of Mano Amiga, a charity that is helping former Buildhub employees, said most were still waiting to be paid and news of the company liquidation came as a shock for many.

“Many sold everything they owned, left their jobs, moved with their families and took up huge loans for their move to New Zealand to work for Buildhub,” Schwenke said.

“They are just stunned and are confused and at a total loss of what to do next. They knew things were not right at the company, but it kept telling them things were going to be okay.”

Swhwenke also acted as an interpreter when 26 former Buildhub employees came to speak with the Herald on Sunday.

Fernando Gonzalez with his wife Ximena and their children Emilia, 11, and Vincente, 9. Photo / Michael Craig
Fernando Gonzalez with his wife Ximena and their children Emilia, 11, and Vincente, 9. Photo / Michael Craig

Norma Schwenke of Mano Amiga (foreground), a charity that is helping former Buildhub employees Photo / Michael Craig
Norma Schwenke of Mano Amiga (foreground), a charity that is helping former Buildhub employees Photo / Michael Craig

Plumber Fernando Gonzalez, 42, took a $36,000 loan to bring his wife Ximena and children Emilia, 11, and Vincente, 9, here from Chile.

After arriving in New Zealand, he said Buildhub made him buy a car as part of his work requirement that required him to take a further loan of $14,000.

“This is a huge amount, and it can be devastating for me and my family if I’m not able to find work and a way to get out of this debt,” Gonzalez said.

Architect Victor Ortega, 40, also from Chile, wanted to warn others because he believed those linked to the liquidated Buildhub were setting businesses and were continuing to recruit South Americans “under different company names”.

Ortega is here with his wife Nicole Orostica, their daughters Victoria, 5, Amparo, 4, and his sister Camila.

“The company directors can just resign, move on, and start new companies doing the same thing, but we are stuck in the predicament they left us in,” Ortega said.

Christian Torres, 32, whose wife is due to arrive on Wednesday, is worried that her visa will no longer be valid and will not be allowed into New Zealand as Buildhub has gone into liquidation.

Buildhub’s website says it placed 200-plus workers with 4800-plus hours of work every week.

Companies Office records show it was set up in July 2019, and the company was 50 per cent owned by Monsan Enterprises and Investments, and 50 per cent owned by Mariela Andrea Ehijo Contreras.

INZ said in a statement that due to the developing nature of the situation, it was unable to confirm any details at this stage but was addressing the situation.

“Providing a timely outcome is a number one priority for us,” the agency said.

“We appreciate that this situation will be very difficult news for these employees.

“We are working closely with the employer, the employees and other interested parties to ensure these workers can remain in New Zealand lawfully.

“We are also exploring options for those who are still overseas.”



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