Migrant Tales – The UK Plumber’s Tale (updated)

Welcome to another chapter in our series of Migrant Tales  – first hand accounts of the migrant experience of New Zealand.

Today’s tale was sent in by John, a successful businessman from the UK who was forced to start from the bottom when he migrated to New Zealand.

If you’re a plumber or gas fitter you may wish to read his story.

If you have first hand experience of trying to get registration as a plumber or gas fitter in New Zealand we’d like to hear your story. Leave a message in the comments section below.

Here’s the UK Plumber’s tale.

Dear Sir or Madam
I am not sure where to start, I suppose it is right back at the beginning of this unfair mess which is destroying my family, thanks to the plumbers board and its previous registrar Phil Routhan and Kern Uren with there lies and deceit.

It all started back in the UK when my wife and I were running 2 successful businesses, we had 2 happy children and a very happy life style in the UK, we had plenty of money so we decided that we would have a holiday of a life time in New Zealand, whilst in NZ we on occasion spoke to plumbers who said we would be of demand and so I was offered 2 jobs which I didn’t take because I didn’t know if I would want to live or move away from all I had, we had many things we wanted to do like build our own house in the UK, Anyway the thought of New Zealand stayed with us so when we heard of some expos we thought we would go along and find out about what we would have to do to move and re start our businesses in NZ, so of course we wanted to talk to NZ immigration because they would know everything we would need to do to achieve our goals of starting our new businesses, they informed us that we would have no problems after they took copies of all my qualifications and my corgi registration and all my other trade certificates, they came back to me after the expo and confirmed that I would be able to start my business after I had worked for a plumber in new Zealand for 3 months, The 3 months was a requirement and once completed I and my family would be granted our residence due to my qualifications and experience, at no time was the plumbers board mentioned in any way or was I told about how bloody bad they were to overseas applicants, this I only found out when I had been here 3-4 months, I found this out from the plumber I was working for, who rather enjoyed informing me of this as it would mean he would be able to keep me on minimum wage, Whilst working there I met other plumbers who were being disadvantaged by the plumber’s board just because they were from the UK.

So thought this was just stupid and nothing could be that bad, so I rang the plumbers board and spoke to Phil Routhan who said he didn’t like plumbers from the UK as they were poorly trained! this was before he had seen my expertise etc so of course I felt very aggrieved as nobody had ever disrespected me or my knowledge like this, My wife and I had run 2 successful businesses, a gas service business that had 3300 customers on its database and successful plumbing business, the gas business installed and maintained and also serviced all gas appliances from cookers to gas fires and gas boilers all of which were more advanced than which are fitted here today, which just shows how flawed the system is here and just how unfair it is as New Zealand as a country needs to bring in fresh blood with expertise and then try to keep it rather than lose it to else where.

This man had no right to talk to me like this he did not know me and he had never done or had the expertise of the work I did so he couldn’t pass judgement on me or any overseas plumber or gas fitter.

Its like asking a plumber to repair a car or a plumber to repair or service a gas boiler he needs training, which you don’t have here in NZ, so how can you expect the plumbers board to be able to pass judgement on a fully qualified gas engineer with city and guilds certificates and 18years plus experience running 2 successful businesses!

So I made a complaint about him to Shane Jones MP that said he could do nothing and had every confidence in the board!
Being very upset about this I didn’t contact them for a while, I was still working for Merwood plumbing of Taupo and I found out that I was supposed to be working under supervision of a craftsman which just didn’t happen, so I asked my boss why he had never given me supervision, he just said I new more than him but he wouldn’t pay me any more! At about this time I was invited by the master plumbers down to Wellington to talk about my experiences as a gas service engineer in the UK as New Zealand has no training or experienced gas engineers.

Anyway Routhan heard I was there and had Fiona Greavel inform me that I wasn’t aloud to do my talk and all evening he was rude about me and overseas plumbers.

Quite a few master plumbers members said that they us from the UK to train their staff and oversee projects because of the wealth of experience we have, they then had to shut up because they realized that they had admitted that they didn’t oversee them, so they had to back track on what they said.

I was doing some installation work which was going well and was due to go back on the Monday but had fall so was unable to go on the Monday so the boss went instead which was a big mistake as he pulled out my 2 pipe system and put in a 1 pipe system which wouldn’t work so I was disgusted with this and told the customer and informed the board about the fact that I never received supervision or help they weren’t interested, so I left Merwood’s and started with Macbeth’s , part of my contract with them was they pay my fees and licenses  which it turned they didn’t, and gas work I did  in the likes of Huka lodge who still want me to do there work because of my expertise was probably never signed off!

I spoke Routhan again and he ranted at me and told me he would never give me my licences as a craftsman and he told he didn’t care what the immigration dept did or didn’t do as he would not talk to them and he said he was the law and he would do anything to ruin me!
So I have to say I went on the war path and told everybody who would listen about it,

I re contacted Shane Jones and kept on at him and the board, at about the same time I started writing for the plumbers journal  (jds corner) also regular letters to the editor about the unfairness of the board and the way they treated others and me .
I wrote a letter about the way the board treated us overseas (UK) plumbers he saw it and then wrote his own in reply which really upset a lot of us which meant he was no longer aloud to write for the journal anymore. At this I started getting overseas plumbers contacting me and complaining about their treatment from the board and Routhan so complained to Shane Jones again and told me that because of the problems that we overseas plumbers facing that he was putting the auditor general onto them which would help us eventually, but we are still being victimized.

Any way we got rid of Routhan and during this time I was trying to get more support with Alan Day for all the plumbers of New Zealand and so we were amongst the founding members of the plumber’s federation of New Zealand (pgdf)

With Routhan gone I spoke to Kern Uren and he decided he would not be helpful and suggested that if I didn’t like it I should go back home as we are in New Zealand now! I would agree with this if it wasn’t for the fact that the peoples representatives the immigration department, hadn’t of recognized my qualifications and experience they wouldn’t have given me and my family residence within 3months, this I feel they set a president they should have informed me of the situation with the board.

I kept bombarding the board and the pgdb and even applied to join the board but they are just not interested in a foreigner whose country set the standard in plumbing and NZ followed, until recently.

Anyway out of the blue Kern rings me and says he would like to invite me down to Wellington to help me achieve my goal of craftsman, so I spoke to other members of the plumbers federation and it was agreed that  Paul Luxton (chairman) would come with me for moral support,
The meeting started really well and kern seemed to be understanding, then he asked for my proof of qualifications etc which he copied and said that he had never seen as much proof and was impressed, so he said he would give me my registered gas and plumber status I was not happy with this as I want to run my own business ,Craig O’Connell and kern assured me that this would not be a problem as they were going to send me all the paperwork so I would be prepared to be asked questions,so I would be given my craftsman status upon satisfactory answers, P said that this was a good result and I should take it so reluctantly I accepted it they gave me the forms to fill in for my registration and asked for a payment which I couldn’t afford and I said so, kern advised me to write to him explaining why I should be aloud off  the payment which I said was because of the way Phil Routhan and the board had treated me, he said that this would probably be ok and would put it before the board, I informed them that I was going away in 7 weeks and they advised me that all the papers etc for my tests would be with me before I went, so whilst away I would be able to study them, when I got back I would take and pass which would give me my craftsman,

Well well well after many calls they never turned up and I spoke to kern by phone and also texts and emails he just said that they were having problems arranging the information for me, I even spoke to Craig Oconnell and he confirmed what was said in the meeting and that he could see no reason why I would not have my craftsman tickets within 6 months.

Whilst in the UK I was asked by Robert Bosch NZ, LTD who make and import the latest types of condensing boilers to do some training at there training centre just outside London, I really enjoyed working with people who understood the tech side to the heating and gas industry, they could not believe how I was being treated so poorly in NZ, many of them knew of some one who was thinking of immigrating to New Zealand and I have to say I couldn’t honestly advise them to come here because  we are treated like we have no experience and so I positively said to them to tell everyone not to waste there time or money.

On my return to New Zealand I spoke to kern and said I was disappointed that the paperwork and information wasn’t with me yet , Kern then turned around and said that at no time did he say they were going to give me my registered tickets in plumbing and gas and they had never agreed to give me the information to help me to pass the oral questions! I was extremely upset by this so I rang back and asked to speak to Craig Oconnell they in formed me he no longer worked for the board,  so I asked for his phone number  they said they couldn’t help me.

I have been told that before Routhan decided that the plumbers board hated overseas plumbers ,they recognized the UK city&guilds exams etc and you could come and all you would have to complete was a 3month 1 hour a week correspondence course which basically taught you the differences in plumbing/gas standards.

I cannot see why we can’t do this now,another funny thing but sad really is that if I go and live in Australia they will give me craftsman status because of my UK qualifications.

please help the overseas plumbers/gas fitters I think 4 years is quite long enough

John Dyer


The NZ Ombudsman has found that the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board made an unlawful levy collection totally over $600,000.

However, the board would not be required to pay back the levy to its members because of the hardship it would cause. Judgements like this, and the story published above, raise questions as to the function of the board and whether it is little more than a revenue raising stream for the government.

Unlawful levy collection

“A complaint was made to Ombudsman David McGee, in part about the collection of a disciplinary levy by the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board from registered persons.

In relation to the disciplinary levy, the complainant was concerned that the Board collected the levy for an 18 month period, despite the Board later acknowledging the levy to have been unlawful as it included costs that were not within the purpose of the levy.

Following investigation, the Ombudsman formed the opinion that the Board’s action in imposing and collecting the levy was based on a mistake of law. However, the Ombudsman noted that any refund of the levy (amounting to $600,000 in total over all those levied) would be devastating to the Board, which relies for funding on the fees and levies collected from registered persons.

The Ombudsman recommended that the Board address the matter with those who had paid the levy, and that the Board and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment should make a proposal to the Minister of Building and Construction in relation to:

• legislation to validate the levy; and

• funding to assist the Board to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement with those who had paid the levy during the time in question.

The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Amendment Bill currently before Parliament addresses some of these issues.”



A selection of comments about the Auditor General’s Report on the Board from the site Plumbers.co.nz/forum


hi guys, Over the next six months, the Auditor-General is carrying out follow-up work on her 2010 inquiry into how the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board’s (the Board’s) functions under the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Act of 1976 (and the 2006 Act as it was introduced during the inquiry).

Relevant submissions will be considered during fieldwork in November.
…we will wait with bated breath,cheers

I’ve also just read the report and have to whole heartedly agree with you guys,

I’m disgusted to have read some of the things that the ‘board’ have been up too.  Everything about the organisation has been a lie from the exams all the way through to operational policies and license fees.  I dont think i will ever trust them no matter how much they say they will change,theyre full of *hit like most govt departments. We don’t even get an apology which i feel is definitely in order as i hate being walked all over by these a**holes just to see them basically get off scot free and to have them say they are trying to put it right. I bet if i made a mistake on a gas installation theyd brutally punish me but yet they are as guilty as a pack of modern day gangsters but thats ok??

And whats up with Phil Routhan former registrar??? Seems to me like he was the king dick at the head of this outrageous scandal and is anything but squeaky clean.
I had an oppurtunity to meet him with my classmates on my last block course in petone on the third to last day in late 07 maybe early 08 but i went home as i has finished everything.After reading this report I’d wish id stayed to punch him in the face……..

Hi Guys

We all have to realise the government isn’t going to change anything because its too hard. They’ll keep covering their rear ends and laying the blame on everone else, including us. What we have to do is get numbers up so we can establish a formidable group that is there to monitor government legislation and be the voice for us. So get out there and drum up numbers. get all those tradesmen sitting back doing nothing and get them motivated. It doesn’t have to be just plumbers gas fitters and drainlayers as you mark my words every regulated person in New Zealand is going to go through the same sh*t in the governments push for self certification so they can sit back and take no blame.

Think of this. They are working on us to upskill so they can tell the consumer we are the best. Then they will make us all self certifying. Good in some ways but extremely bad in others. On the good side we get the recognition we deserve and won’t have to go through inspections with the local councils which I don’t think is too bad any way but look at the bad side. We will all be subject to audits, we will all need a huge amount of public liability insurance, we will need professional indemnity insurance and the list goes on. It will cost a fortune to be self certifying. It will be another case of the honest will be paying.

What we need to do is get people in the positions where change can be made, ITO, Board and Government if necessary but we need to start somewhere which would be with stopping the Cr*p going on now by way of the regulation review committee and get an action group so big they can’t ignore us

Tere is a new nes letter posted now

Keep fighting

Phil Routhan

‘Guerrilla tactics’ boss loses bid to get job back – Stuff.co.nz 17/12/2010

A former chief executive who used “guerrilla tactics” to “go to war” against his employer has failed in his bid to be reinstated.

Philip Routhan was sacked from his role with the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board last year after he took more than 4000 documents from the office that he alleged proved his claim of serious irregularities about gas certification.

But the board said the documents also included personal staff files and said Mr Routhan had been abusive to other employees.

At an Employment Relations Authority hearing last month, Mr Routhan said there were potentially hundreds of faulty gas installations in New Zealand that could explode and kill someone.

He said he was asked to lie to Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson about safety problems at the request of board chairwoman Hazel Armstrong, a claim she denied.

In his decision, authority member Denis Asher dismissed Mr Routhan’s application, stating the board’s decision to fire him was one that any fair and reasonable employer would have reached.

“Put simply … Mr Routhan – the respondent’s most senior employee – elected to go to war against his employer,” he said.

“There were no proper grounds for him to do so, and his guerrilla tactics in particular were in profound breach of his express obligations to his employer … his behaviour was bizarre.” …more here

4 thoughts on “Migrant Tales – The UK Plumber’s Tale (updated)

  1. The really sad part of all this? NZ NEEDS qualified tradesmen.
    The building trade has just gotten into the licensing of builders [as a result of leaky homes]. The licensing process is based on “peer review”. So, any building contractor can out any builder and keep him from getting licensed [protecting market share].
    The volume of building is low, standards not so high, and they want to charge several grand/year for licensing builders.
    Their production methods are outdated, yet they don’t want to change. That’s a lot of what’s going on. They don’t like to be compared to other markets because their standards don’t stand up very well. Hence, the “if you don’t like it, leave” attitude.

  2. Its a shame that Phil Routhan is not the great man he likes to think he is … about time everyone knew what type of man he really is, how he has a bastard child (daughter) in Melbourne Australia! Which he fathered while working their as Registrar of the Plumbers Regulators Board ….one of the many affairs he conducted in Australia while the Board paid for them!!!

  3. I am sorry to hear about your troubles. I cannot offer any practical advice because I am unfamiliar with your industry, but I would suggest returning home to the UK.

    My experience with the “professional regulatory bodies” in New Zealand is that they exist so the people on their boards can maintain a lavish lifestyle collecting fees from the dues paying members whilst protecting the turf of the established players. For example, I have experience in the investments field and I enquired about becoming an Authorised Financial Adviser with the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) in New Zealand.

    The FMA said that I could not use my US licenses towards any New Zealand credentials. I would have to spend several thousand dollars in application fees and sit some new tests. No one at the agency could exactly articulate the requirements and I received several answers from different people. They all referred me back to the applicable legislation!

    The one advantage that you do have in New Zealand is that, generally, the enforcement mechanisms are nonexistent, so you can carry on without registering etc. However, if one of your fellow Kiwi plumbers finds out, he might call his mate with the plumbing body and start making your life difficult.

    I wish you the best and I hope things work out for you.

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