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Michael Noche, killed on Auckland building site, was scaffolder from Philippines with wife and children

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By Anne Gibson of NZ Herald

house scaffold

File image.
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Construction site scaffolder Michael Noche, killed at work on Friday, was a migrant from the Philippines and had been dreaming of bringing his wife and children here, a union chief says.

Mikee Santos, a Union Network of Migrants co-ordinator, said Noche’s death at a retirement village site in Auckland’s St Johns was a tragedy.

“The family’s years of planning to come to New Zealand have now been shattered – the devastation. They planned to start a new life here but this tragedy means the loss of a father and husband and their dream of coming to this country. That cuts deep not only on that family but every Filipino family in New Zealand,” Santos said.

Santos said Noche had been in New Zealand for about four years and was working at height on the site of Summerfield St Johns, 188 St Johns Rd.

He was killed at about 12.30pm on Friday. He was an employee of Marin Construction, a subcontractor on the large site.

“The whole site was shut, pending an investigation. This man fell six or seven floors. He was a scaffolder. It is bizarre. The whole Philippines community in Auckland is talking about this. They’re in mourning and very upset. It’s difficult to understand what happened,” Santos said.

Noche was aged about 40. He arrived in New Zealand just over four years ago, Santos said, lived in Henderson and his wife and children were soon to arrive.

“The family’s residents visa is getting processed as we speak,” Santos said.

“He was able to qualify for residence in New Zealand and his family were also coming here. Every migrant’s dream is to bring their family here to New Zealand. That was underway when the tragedy transpired on Friday. I can’t fathom what the wife and family are feeling like now,” Santos added.

On average, about two people were killed every month in the New Zealand construction industry.

Unemig was a division of First Union, which Santos said was most concerned about workloads and the prospect of further fatalities.

“We’ve been assured safety is paramount. But this death rate is nothing to be proud of. WorkSafe and the major players in the industry and First Union have to work together.”

The union was made aware of the fatality on Friday and Santos said he found it hard to put himself in the family’s position.

He hoped WorkSafe would conduct a thorough investigation.

“Migrant workers who’ve been here four to five years already … are getting involved in accidents and serious harm. The biggest question we have to answer is: What about the incoming migrant workers who come here, who have bigger blind spots about workplace safety here than people already here?

“Four years ago, I worked with the Asia NZ Foundation and WorkSafe and they were able to identify big blind spots with migrants and how they integrate,” he said.

“Slowly, new migrant workers are beginning to return and they are coming in their thousands.

“WorkSafe and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment need to be more proactive to prevent the continuous loss of life. New Zealand always has the perfect image, the standards for good treatment of migrant workers. Our global image on protecting migrant workers needed to be maintained,” he said.

The Philippines has supplied more than 12 million workers globally and about 6000 people leave the country every month to work abroad.

“Death would be the worst news that a family could hear – that their father had died abroad and would be coming home in a casket,” Santos said of Noche, who was Catholic.

Millions in the Philippines had their fathers and uncles working overseas and feared such a tragedy.

“My sympathies go to the family of Michael,” Santos said.

He encouraged companies to take workplace safety far more seriously, encourage Filipino workers to become health and safety officers on sites to educate fellow workers, and beef up procedures to ensure fatalities ceased.

Summerset issued an NZX notice on Friday headed ‘St Johns site death’ and said: “The thoughts and deepest sympathies of everyone at Summerset Group Holdings are with the family and friends of a contractor who passed away on our St Johns construction site today. The site has been closed. Police are investigating.”

Chief executive Scott Scoullar said: “We are devastated something like this has happened on one of our sites and we are offering support to our staff and contractors. We are cooperating fully with the police and other authorities, and we will do everything we can to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Asked for further details on Monday, a spokesperson said: “We do not have anything further to share at this time.”

A WorkSafe spokesperson said on Monday: “WorkSafe has opened an investigation into this incident in Auckland, but cannot make any further comment while the investigation is underway.”

The Herald has reported on high rates of construction worker deaths lately.

Data from WorkSafe showed construction had the second-highest number of deaths of any sector between February 2021 and January 2022.

Transport, postal and warehousing fared the worst with 17 deaths recorded.

Inquires about the death have been sent to Marin Construction but no reply has yet been received.

*This story was first published on the NZ Herald.

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