Downer to give up on Chorus fibre rollout

Downer has told Chorus that it does not intend to re-tender for ongoing fibre installation work

Downer has told Chorus that it does not intend to re-tender for ongoing fibre installation work, preferring to concentrate on the copper network and communal UFB build. The decision has prompted the union representing workers to claim it exposes the poor treatment of Chorus contractors, and will jeopardise the sustainability of the new network.

E tū’s industry co-ordinator, communications, Joe Gallagher, said Downer had quit “because there’s nothing in it for them.” He said Chorus was not paying contractors enough to ensure a quality network and that there had been many complaints about poor quality workmanship.

“Now Downer is exiting and many smaller contractors have also quit because they can’t make money. We can’t see how another experienced contractor can come in and deliver a quality network, he said. “Instead, we’ll see delays and more shoddy work.”

Chorus revealed Downer’s decision in its FY16 results announcement, saying it expects to make further announcements regarding its service company arrangements in the near future. Downer currently provides fibre installation services primarily in the lower South Island, and is contracted to continue to provide this service until February 2017.

Gallagher claimed that the profits announced by Chorus had been earned off the backs of underpaid contractors and at the expense of the New Zealand public. “The fact that Chorus continues to promote and support this low-value contracting model is disgraceful.”

Chorus CEO Mark Ratcliffe said: “No matter which partner we choose, this will be a managed transition and we will be adding overall to the technician and field support workforce, so we expect the number of roles relating to fibre installation to continue to grow.”

In its results announcement Chorus said it had almost doubled the number of fibre field crews from 275 to 524 in FY16 and was looking to recruit another 250 technicians and support staff by the end of 2016.

Downer’s role already reduced

Downer was awarded the Chorus contract in April 2013. Downer said the contract would run until 2019 and was valued at up to $500 million. However in April this 2016 Downer was dumped from its role providing fibre installations in Wellington, Kapiti Coast and Manawatu. Chorus said Visionstream would take over work in these areas.

Chorus’ customer services general manager, Nick Woodward, said at the time: “We’ve been open about our need for more technicians, and how we want to retain skilled people in the industry. Visionstream’s operating model has proven to be very effective in attracting new crews and in getting through the most jobs in a day.”

He added: “We have had such a high demand for fibre in the Wellington region that we need to make changes to ensure consumers are connected to fibre much quicker than is currently the case. Chorus and Downer have made this joint decision in the best interests of consumers. This change will allow Downer to focus on its performance in Hutt Valley and Wairarapa.”

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