Transfield Services and Downer Engineering both say they will continue to recruit technicians from overseas because they can’t find enough locally to deliver projects.
Services company TransWorks’ managing director Mike Paltridge claimed in a submission to the Ministry of Economic Development (Computerworld, February 11) that the two overseas-owned companies dominate the industry and that the government should use the separation of Telecom to open up some work to third parties.
He said both had rejected suggestions from Telecom project managers that they subcontract work to other, smaller companies and had instead got dispensation to bring in foreign nationals as technical staff.
Ross Lockwood, Transfield executive general manager, telecommunications, says in response that the company has undertaken extensive advertising in New Zealand in search of skilled telecommunications workers but they simply aren’t in the market, having been lured overseas or into other professions.
“We employ almost 1300 staff in the telecommunications sector, of which 15% are immigrants. The work undertaken cannot be compared on a wholly like-for-like basis with electrical or computer technicians.”
A national employers 2007 wage and salary survey shows telecommunications technicians are paid far less than their counterparts in other areas of the industry. (Seen panel, page 8.)
But Lockwood says technicians’ wages can only be partly compared to those in the electrical or computer sectors because they perform different tasks requiring different skill sets.
He says margins are extremely low in the telecommunications sector and that it is only economies of scale that allow bigger companies to profitably carry out such low-margin work.
Downer Engineering general manager Sheridan Broadbent says overseas recruits make up fewer than 15% of the company’s total work force. “The suggestion that migrant labour is being used to drive down wages has no basis in fact,” he says. “Our people are skilled and mobile and we can only retain them by providing annual salary increases along with a comprehensive and rewarding employment package.”
In July last year the ElectroComms Industry Council of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union called for a government crackdown on what it described as the widespread misuse of migrant labour to exploit local and immigrant lines workers.
It claimed companies across the industry were keeping wages and conditions in check by misusing systems designed to cover the skills shortage.