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Christchurch tradespeople form new lobby amid unease over rebuild

Wednesday 18th July 2012

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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," Brownlee said. "The government procurement programme has actually saved the tax payers tens of millions of dollars since we started it four years ago," he said.

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

New Zealand's largest construction company said it is simply a matter of supply and demand, with the supply of people greater than the amount of work, while CTU president Helen Kelly has labeled 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's 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 Peters, who owns the two-man paint and plastering business David J Peters.

MBIE will award the paint contract on Sept. 3 and the successful supplier is expected to supply the paint from Sept. 4 onwards.

"We are at an early stage of the procurement process, and are yet to enter into negotiations with parties we may shortlist," Tracy Dillimore, spokeswomen for MBIE. "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 Nuplex 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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