New Zealand’s largest private sector trade union, E tū, has called for a government enquiry into installation practices for the Ultrafast Fibre Broadband network, saying the current model with multiple layers of contractors and subcontractors is broken.
E tū’s industry coordinator for communications, Joe Gallagher, described the pyramid nature of contracting as insidious. “The further you get away from the source, the harder it is to hold companies to account,” he said.
“We need an industry framework which provides clear employment conditions, sound parameters for health and safety and delivers a good outcome for the consumer.”
Gallagher’s comments were prompted by revelations about the work practices at Frontier Communications - a subcontractor to Chorus UFB cabling contractor, Visionstream.
According to E tū, former Frontier Communications worker, Wilem Brown of Nelson, had been expected to install UFB cables, despite receiving no training, and was paid only $12.00 an hour – less than the minimum wage.
Gallagher said Brown’s story should be sounding alarm bells. “First of all, there’s the human cost here. Wilem thought his new job was the start of a new career as a cable technician. Instead he was exploited and now he’s out of a job.
“Secondly, we believe his story is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve also had the case of the so-called ‘volunteers’ working for free for Chorus subcontractor, UCG.”
Gallagher said both these cases were about installation work in Nelson, but claimed that Chorus was under-funding its contractors, and that there were similar problems elsewhere.
“It is clear Chorus’s contracting model is broken. It’s time something was done to preserve the integrity of the UFB installation programme,” he said.