On Wednesday 24 February, the CWU met with nbn to discuss a range of issues affecting both employees and contractors working on the NBN roll-out.
The union continues to hear reports of sub-contractors being left in financial limbo by the companies that have engaged them.
This problem was endemic during the earlier phases of the roll-out which saw dozens if not hundreds of small locally-based companies facing hardship because of late payment or non-payment by prime contractors. Unfortunately it has not gone away.
The CWU brought one particular case to nbn’s attention but also argued that the company has to own and address this problem more systematically if it is not to undermine the roll-out while at the same time bringing hardship to nbn workers and their families.
The other key workforce issue the meeting covered was training.
Last year the CWU wrote to nbn seeking clarification of details of the training programme the company is developing to meet anticipated skill shortages over the next phase of the NBN build. nbn has said it will need some 4,500 new workers over and above those already engaged on the project.
The CWU is concerned about a number of aspects of this programme.
While it is still not clear whether or not the training involved will be fully or only partly funded by the company itself, the CWU believes that any direct public funding by nbn should be used to encourage permanent employment in the industry, not to perpetuate the pyramid contracting model currently in place.
The union has also asked for more detail about the quality control measures that will be used to ensure that the public gets value for its money in the programme.
The training sector has been beset with scandals in recent years, partly as a result of policies that have encouraged “tick and flick” training – courses that provide accreditation on the basis of minimal attendances and little or no practical experience.
Under the nbn scheme, training subsidies will only be available to those who attend courses offered by nbn approved providers. But the CWU believes that auditing of trainees once they have completed training should also be considered.
nbn has undertaken to respond further to the CWU on all these issues.