Telecom and contractor Visionstream are claiming victory in their industrial dispute with the engineers union, which brushes that off as a sign of desperation.
Telecom's network arm Chorus says Visionstream has recruited sufficient linesmen to allow it to take responsibility for installing and repairing Chorus' phone and broadband connections on Auckland's North Shore next week, and in Waitakere the week after. That is a few weeks ahead of Visionstream's planned start dates.
Technicians employed by previous contractors Transfield and Downer EDI will be let go early, but would still be paid up to September 27, Chorus says.
The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) puts Chorus' claim down to brinkmanship, disputing that Visionstream's recruitment drive is progressing well. Spokesman Rob Egan says most EPMU members in the area are "pretty much on permanent strike", so Chorus has nothing to lose by trying to get Visionstream to take over contracts early.
At issue in the dispute is Visionstream's plan to use engineers who are owner-operators, rather than employees. Visionstream spokesman John Redwood would not say how many linesmen had signed as owner-operators.
Egan says that in Counties Manukau, where Visionstream is working, it is relying on subcontractors that have engaged paid staff.
The EPMU claims to represent nearly 1000 of Telecom's 2500 lines engineers, including 600 in Auckland and Northland, where work is contracted to Visionstream.
National secretary Andrew Little says 118 faults were unfixed in Northland and repair times in the main centres had "blown out" from two to three days to three weeks.
"Telecom clearly doesn't have the people it needs to maintain the network, and this last-minute raising of the stakes is a desperate attempt to compel our members into signing a viciously one-sided contracting arrangement they have overwhelmingly rejected."
Chorus spokesman Robin Kelly says delays had occurred on the North Shore, but the firm is fixing faults in 4 1/2-days on average, versus under a day nationally. Only about 700 of Telecom's field services staff are EPMU members, including about 360 in Auckland and Northland.