A group who say an Auckland construction company owes them more than $100,000 in unpaid wages is protesting outside its office. The director of a very similarly named company based at the same address claims it’s nothing to do with him, but the Companies Register suggests otherwise, Eda Tang reports.
Since January 15, Guo Hua Huang and Ms* Zhang have been camping out under an orange and yellow beach umbrella outside a North Shore office, next to a makeshift sign made of building wrap reading:
ANSON CONSTRUCTION NZLTD
Wages owed will not be paid
No answer when calling, no reply when sending emails
Combined, they say Huang and Jin Feng, who is Zhang’s friend, are currently owed $103,000 by the company. The pay dispute was reported on earlier in the week by Stuff.
Both Huang and Feng came to Aotearoa on skilled migrant visas five years ago to do gardening and painting work as subcontractors. Huang said she had children and a mother in China and she wanted to earn money in New Zealand to give them a better life.
After completing work and not receiving payment for two months, they contacted Anson Construction, escalating the issue to Allan (Wei) Dong, who was the director at the time. Their queries were deflected and eventually no one answered their messages or picked up their calls. With their options exhausted, they protested outside one of the company’s worksites at 30 Sandy Lane in Avondale.
Initially, Huang was owed $90,249.98 and Feng was owed about $61,000. In response to their first protest, the company paid Huang $31,000 and Feng about $20,000 in early December under the hand of a new company director, Victor (Kuo Chen) Lee.
Huang had some luck in corresponding with the new director but they were financially unyielding. In one private correspondence, Lee told her to stop chasing him up because he was busy.
“We’re out of ideas. They’re not picking up their phone or answering their emails so we’re just going to sit here… I only know three of us who are still owed money, but it’s likely there are lots of others,” said Huang. Another subcontractor, Mr* Wang, who says he’s owed $9,600, joined the protest outside the offices, at 1 Parkway Drive, just off Constellation Drive on the North Shore, on Wednesday morning with his family. He felt that was the only way for him to be heard. Jin Feng also joined on Thursday.
Yesterday, I found myself in a room at the office at 1 Parkway Drive with Lee, the current director of Anson Construction, and the company’s former director Dong, who’s now the director of a different company, Anson Building. I mostly wanted to speak to Lee, given he was now responsible for paying the subcontractors, but Dong joined, and took up a lot of air time expressing how the protest outside shouldn’t be there at all as it wasn’t the office of Anson Construction but of his company, Anson Building, whose reputation was now being dragged into the gutter.
Dong said the photos in the news associating the protest with the Anson logo in the background was “not acceptable at all”. He told me not to associate Anson Building with this case. “It’s really misleading. If necessary, we can take lawful actions against this.”
If Anson Construction wasn’t based at the office at Parkway Drive, why did Lee arrange for us to meet here, I asked. “I travel around, like you,” Lee replied.
Lee and Dong said other than having worked together in the past, they had nothing to do with one another, despite the fact that in the Companies Register, Dong is listed as Anson Construction’s former director. In fact he was the director of the company as late as July last year. Anson Construction’s directors were Dong and another named Bing Liu. Huang said that Bing Liu was one of the people who assigned her work when she started at Anson Construction. Both have 1 Parkway Drive in Rosedale as their registered address.
Dong said Anson Building has had about 30-40 subcontractors in the last year and none are owed money. “During the past three years of operation, we have never delayed the payment to subcontractors. We treat our subcontractors as our precious partners.”
He said that his company complied with immigration and employment law, part of its condition of being an Immigration New Zealand-accredited employer.
He said he had nothing to do with the people protesting outside and hadn’t even met them before their protest. “Unfortunately, I’m not the person to solve the problem. They’ve never done work for us.”
Dong refused to confirm if he was the former director of Anson Construction. “I’m not supposed to answer any questions in relation to Anson Construction, OK?”
“These two companies are totally separate. Both companies have different management, different resources, different subcontractors – so totally different,” he said. “I’m really surprised somebody’s trying to use misconceptions to damage our name. It’s really serious.”
Dong, wearing a shirt that read “Anson New Zealand”, had brought printouts of the logos of the two companies to show me that they were different. Anson Building’s website had stated that it was part of the Anson Group as of Wednesday. “I don’t know what is meant by Anson Group, I hate this word. There’s no such thing called Anson Group, please.”
“Our name has been damaged because of some other party’s behaviour,” he said, while Lee, his successor, sat quietly next to him. “As Anson Building, we are victims as well.”
Meanwhile, Lee, the director of Anson Construction, said the decisions of the company weren’t up to him but the “local” shareholders. According to the Companies Register, Anson Construction’s two shareholders are Project NZ Ltd and Anson Development Ltd. The latter states Lee himself and Maosheng Wang (based in Singapore) as directors. It also points to 1 Parkway Drive as the company’s address. Maosheng Wang is the co-director, with Dong, of Anson Building Ltd.
Lee wouldn’t provide much information about what Anson Construction does, other than saying it was a joint venture company and it didn’t have any employees. When I asked if he could describe what he did in his role, he said, “I just assist the shareholder to coordinate between them,” unable to clarify who “them” was.
Lee has recently sent in a letter of resignation for his current role but would not comment on why. It was undecided who would take over. He said because of his role as a temporary representative, he wasn’t able to provide too much detail.
“I can only say the company is currently still addressing this matter about [the people outside], but I’m still waiting for their decision.” Lee says he’s known the protesters since last November. “When they see me, I just know they have problems. They were engaged with Anson Construction before I was the director.”
Private correspondence on WeChat showed Huang was disappointed that after her first protest at Sandy Lane, only a portion of the money was recovered to her. But Lee told her that the first payment was already part of an emergency fund. When I asked Lee to confirm this, he said he didn’t know. He also claimed not to know who Huang was.
Huang told Lee on WeChat, “Your company has cornered these people into a desperate situation.” She said she just wants assurances that the company can at least pay them back in monthly instalments.
*First names omitted to protect employment security.
*Interview with Guo Hua Huang was conducted in Mandarin.