Telecom broadband workers to protest pay offer

Telecom broadband technicians are protesting outside the company's main offices in Auckland and Christchurch today over a pay offer which they say does not cover the rate of inflation.

The technicians are employed by Australian company Downer EDI which is Telecom's largest contractor.

However, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) blamed Telecom for the offer based on its "refusal to properly resource its contractors".

Telecom spokesman Mark Watts said the company had no comment on the industrial issue which was, "between Downer and their workforce".

"It doesn't involve Telecom, it involves the workers and their employer which is Downer not Telecom," he said.

EPMU national secretary Andrew Little disagreed, saying Telecom's dominant position allowed it to push down costs, harming workers.

"Telecom's been playing its contractors off against each other for years to the point where there now isn't money available to pay broadband workers a fair rate, which is particularly galling for them when their skills are in high demand internationally and they can get 50 per cent more just by crossing the ditch."

He said it was "extremely short-sighted, if not irresponsible" to under-invest in a skilled workforce when a massive rollout of fibre optic infrastructure was likely.

Downer EDI New Zealand general manager Sheridan Broadbent said she respected the workers' right to take action but was surprised they had decided to involve Telecom.

"The EPMU and its members have got a right to do what they need to do. I'm not comfortable they are trying to involve our customer because commercially it's embarrassing for us.

"These are our staff and we should be dealing with them directly. And from Telecom's point of view they don't want to get involved in discussing what we may or may not do with our own staff."

She said negotiations with the EPMU had reached "an impasse" and they were heading to mediation at the beginning of June.

It is not the first time unions have targeted the customer of a contractor in recent disputes.

Last month the EPMU spoke out against energy company Vector, blaming them for not providing sufficient funding to contractor Energex to pay their line workers.

A few days earlier Spotless Services workers, represented by the Service and Food Workers Union, ended a two-year dispute over pay, during which they protested outside hospitals and the home of a District Health Board chairman.