Quake build unease prompts birth of 'Can Trades' lobby group

Concerned Canterbury tradespeople say the government's $20 billion-plus rebuild programme is slashing their earnings and favouring big business.

BUSINESSDESK: Tradespeople in Canterbury have formed a new lobby group amid concern the government’s management of the $20 billion-plus rebuild is slashing their earnings and favouring big business.

Master plumbers, master painters and master builders have rallied together to form Can Trades, a group that chairman Lester Bryant says reflects their need to “create an entity to defend themselves”.

“A number of members feel as though they have been disadvantaged by the managers of the rebuild, including Fletcher Building,” he told BusinessDesk.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said getting value for money was a bigger priority for the government than protecting the margins of tradesmen.

"We probably buy a lot of nails as well, you buy a lot of things," he said. "The government procurement programme has actually saved the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars since we started it four years ago." 

Earlier this week, Fletcher Building's chief executive Jonathan Ling denied claims from the Council of Trade Unions that it is profiting from cutting rates for painters and plasterers by about 20% to $19 a square metre.

New Zealand's largest construction company said it is a matter of supply and demand, with the supply of people greater than the volume of work, while CTU president Helen Kelly has labelled it "an abuse of contracted labour".

Paint has become the latest sticking point.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment wants registrations of interest for the supply of 5 million litres of paint, making it one of the biggest such tenders ever offered in New Zealand.

That is enough for 100,000 houses requiring $10,000 to $100,000 worth of repairs, according to the Industrial Consumables Christchurch Reconstruction – Paint tender, posted on the Government Electronic Tender Service last week.

Painters say the move will shut out small businesses by erasing their margins and is "immoral and anti-competitive".

"Some people will be a bit peeved because they are making a margin off it," David Peters, board member at the Canterbury Master Painters Association told BusinessDesk.

"We were always individuals doing up people's houses. We got our work through word of mouth, now in Christchurch the work is all earthquake-related.

"All of the small firms are finding it tough. I know there are lots of people being laid off because I'm getting a lot of texts asking for work," said Mr Peters, who owns the two-man paint and plastering business David J Peters.

MBIE will award the paint contract on September 3 and the successful supplier is expected to supply the paint from the next day onwards.

"We are at an early stage of the procurement process and are yet to enter into negotiations with parties we may shortlist," MBIE spokeswoman Tracy Dillimore said. "Therefore, savings are difficult to forecast at this point."

Nuplex Industries, one of the largest suppliers of the materials used to make paint, welcomed the prospect of a big purchase.

“It’s positive to see this tender come through as it reflects the continuation of the reconstruction of Christchurch,” a spokeswoman said. “Additional paint volume is always a plus for our industry and we are looking forward to the opportunity to supply our customers who are successful in the tender process.”

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