Engineers hit the streets over Chorus subcontracts

Telecom Chorus engineers say the company is is loading them up with debt during a recession

Chorus network engineers hit the streets of Auckland today in a series of noisy protests in Newmarket and on Queen Street, protesting waht they call Telecom's "destabilisation" of the industry.

"The workers are really upset that Telecom has decided once more to destabilise the industry by bringing in a subcontracting model," says Engineeering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national organiser Joe Gallagher.

Gallagher says new contracts break the model down even further and if Chorus goes ahead with a new contractor, workers will be left with no rights whatsoever.

In a statement to the New Zealand Stock Exchange last month, Chorus announced that it has added Visionstream to current providers Downer EDi Engineering and Transfield.

Visionstream will serve Telecom customers in the Auckland and Northland regions, which were previously served by Transfield and Downer. The move will affect approximately 700 current field staff.

Wellington, previously served by Transfield, will now be served by Downer. Under the new contract, Transfield’s service areas are limited to the central North Island and Upper South Island. Downer EDi will serve the East Coast, lower North Island and lower South Island in addition to Wellington.

Gallagher says the protests will be sustained against Telecom, Chorus and the new provider, Visionstream, and the workers are unwilling to accept anything less than a waged employment model.

He says New Zealand is deep in recession and Telecom is trying to discharge all its risks on the contractors — and load them up with debt in the process.

Telecom's claims the new provider will enhance its network are "rubbish", he says.

"It will just hit the workers in the pocket," he says.

Chorus says it is still waiting to hear from the workers what the drive-by protests are about.

Informed by Computerworld that they related to owner/operator approach of new contractor Visionstream, spokesman Robin Kelly said Chorus decided to have a three-player model to introduce more diversity into its operations.

He says the telecommunications environment is changing and the new arrangements provide economies of scale.

"This isn't about cost," he says. "We are spending the same amount of money and putting out money where our mouth is."

Kelly says all three engineering service providers it now uses have 10-year contracts, making the arrangements more stable than in the past.

Last year, Transfield almost made 170 staff redundant, claiming its then-contract with Telecom, which expired in January, meant it couldn’t make a profit on the work it did for Telecom. The issue was resolved in October, with new terms agreed, and the redundancies didn’t go ahead.

Downer also experienced an issue relating to its former contract with Telecom, with Downer staff protesting outside Telecom headquarters last year, saying a new pay offer from Downer didn’t cover the rate of inflation. Telecom’s response was that it was an issue for Downer, not Telecom.

Visionstream is based in Australia and was originally launched as a subsidiary of Telstra.

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