Wednesday, 12 May 2021 07:40

NBN Co technicians walk off the job nation-wide in ongoing protest Featured

NBN Co technicians walk off the job nation-wide in ongoing protest Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

More than 600 technicians employed by the NBN Co, the company rolling out Australia's national broadband network, will walk off the job on Wednesday as part of a national day of action.

This means that any installations or repairs scheduled for the day cannot go ahead. The workers want the Federal Government to set up a Parliamentary inquiry to look into issues which they say are plaguing the NBN Co.

The Australia-wide strike comes after action to protest about a number of issues. These include "cuts to sub-contractors' pay rates, an Uber-style job booking app causing chaos for workers and consumers, pyramid sham contracting arrangements and the NBN rollout debacle", the union representing the workers said in a statement.

In February, it was reported that the executive staff at the company were paid $78 million in bonuses for 2020, almost double the $43 million paid in 2019. Australia experienced a recession in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief executive Stephen Rue received $4.3 million as a short-term incentive, with all bonuses being paid because the NBN Co exceeded its targets for the financial year.

Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union national president Shane Murphy said the NBN Co's existing employment set-up was broken and claimed it was a government-endorsed pyramid scheme.

"The NBN has been a mess from day one – and the government continues to turn a blind eye and look the other way," he said.

"It's time for a national inquiry into the NBN so that we can get these issues fixed for customers and workers once and for all.

"You have senior employees on top salaries and multi-million dollar bonuses while [ordinary] workers are squeezed for pay and conditions at the other end and service suffers.

"We need an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of the dodgy dealings in the NBN rollout, how workers have been treated unfairly and how customer service has been impacted.

"One of the key areas for investigation is the NBN Co's pyramid-style contracting model where NBN contracts work to their 'delivery partners' who then sub-contract that work to a 'prime' who then sub-contracts it again. Everyone in the chain takes their cut, leaving workers' pay squeezed and the taxpayer to foot the bill.

"NBN Co needs to scrap their dodgy pyramid contracting model, improve pay rates and ditch the shonky Uber-style job booking app."

Last week, NBN Co technicians in Sydney walked off the job to protest against the same issues.

Contacted for comment, an NBN Co spokesperson said: "NBN Co engages delivery partners to fulfil many of the company's construction and maintenance programs on its behalf. As is standard industry practice in the telecommunications and construction industries, our construction and maintenance contracts place responsibility for compliance with the law and relevant legislation on our delivery partners in relation to the contracted services. Delivery partners are free to use their own employees or sub-contractors when fulfilling the work and maintenance outlined in our contracts with them.

"We are working constructively with the CEPU and we are seeking to maintain and support strong, productive working relationships with our delivery partners and their respective subcontractors. NBN Co appreciates the ongoing dedication and diligence of the thousands of highly qualified field technicians and network engineers who are not directly involved in the industrial action and are continuing to work hard to maintain the reliability and performance of the nbn network across Australia.

"NBN Co and its key delivery partners are engaged in an ongoing discussion with the CEPU. We have met with CEPU representatives in recent weeks and we will continue to engage with the union.

"NBN Co is aware of some issues that our delivery partners and field technicians have experienced with our recently deployed mobile application for managing and logging work requests. We have significantly improved the app over the last few weeks to address functionality, system performance and general user experience pain-points, and will continue to modify and enhance the app in the coming weeks. We appreciate technicians' patience while we work to improve the app."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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