Linesmen to be paid 'like fast food workers'

Jobs and income security are on the line at Transfield, the EPMU says.
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Jobs and income security are on the line at Transfield, the EPMU says.

Engineering contractor Transfield Services has confirmed it will cut up to 137 jobs as it reacts to Chorus paring back spending on its copper broadband network.

New Zealand executive director John Brockies said it was proposing cutting 137 jobs but there would be opportunities for some of those affected employees to "redeploy elsewhere" within the firm.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) said other changes proposed by Transfield would greatly reduce the income-security of those that held on to their jobs.

Brockies confirmed Transfield would adopt a new working model under which its technicians would be paid an annual retainer of $32,000 and a fee for each job they performed, rather than a set wage.

EPMU spokesman Joe Gallagher likened the proposal to controversial "zero-hour" contracts that became popular in the fast food industry. "It is not called a zero hours contract but you have got to hope Chorus are dishing out the work," he said.

Gallagher said a similar pay model had been introduced for staff employed by rival company Downer, which also contracts for Chorus, but that was working "okay" as Downer had set a higher annual retainer of $45,000.

Brockies acknowledged there would be no guarantee of pay beyond its $32,000 retainer but said it would be "very unusual" for it to have staff on its books not doing jobs.

Although the pay changes were a "core element" of the proposal Transfield had put in front of workers, it wanted to understand the impact it would have on them and was open to making changes in the light of consultations which will run until May 8, he said.

Brockies said it was in Transfield's interests to make sure it had the right incentives to attract and retain staff. "The more technicians we have got, the more revenue we earn, so we want our technicians to be successful."

Gallagher said Australian-owned Transfield was planning the cutbacks and changes in response to a reduction in work from key customer Chorus, which was cutting back the amount of money it spent maintaining its copper broadband network as it focused instead on rolling out ultrafast broadband.

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"Because Chorus has been unsuccessful in getting the copper [broadband] price raised, they're doing as little as possible to keep the network up and running," Gallagher said. "This means less work for their contractors and in turn fewer jobs for their workers."

Chorus spokesman Nathan Beaumont said it was up to Transfield how it structured its business. It was natural that Chorus would cut spending on its copper network as it progressed with rolling out out its alternative fibre-optic ultrafast broadband (UFB) network, he said.

"Mismanagement would be continuing to spend money on something which is being replaced."

But Labour communications spokeswoman Clare Curran said Chorus was "neglecting" the copper network which was still "the backbone of regional internet connections".

A report by Wellington researcher TrueNet last week said copper and cable broadband was getting congested in the evening, which it attributed to a sudden surge in the number of people logging on to internet television services, such as Lightbox, Neon and Netflix.

Chorus admitted it had been taken by surprise by demand for internet capacity growing at a faster rate than it had anticipated.

 - Stuff

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