Big issues in Telecom lines strike

Written By: - Date published: 4:45 pm, August 11th, 2009 - 31 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags: , , , ,

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It’s great to see all the lines engineers standing up to Telecom’s attempt to strip away their employment rights and turn them into dependent contractors. I was lucky enough to catch the protest above yesterday (not my photo though), and there was a lot of passion from the guys.

There’s a good reason for that passion. Under the proposal from Telecom’s new contractor Visionstream these workers face losing their jobs with no redundancy and would have to reapply as dependent contractors. That means getting a loan of $60,000 to pay for their own vehicle and tools and signing an unfair contract that would mean taking on huge business risks, a 50-66% drop in income and no guarantee of regular work. And if they don’t like it, they can leave the industry. That’s freedom of choice in a capitalist system for you.

The workers argue that the whole issue goes back to Telecom’s contracting model, and I’m inclined to agree with them. This model and the law that enables it allows Telecom to shirk responsibility for its workforce by fobbing their employment off to contractors. It then plays these contractors off against each other in a race to the bottom on workers’ wages. The end result of all this is lower labour costs and higher profits for Telecom.

The outrage is that the law allows all this to happen in the first place. To be fair to Labour, near the end of their last term they introduced legislation that would have partly dealt with companies that attempt to contract out of the employment relationship, but it was too little too late. These workers need a beefed up version of that law, and fast.

The other issue is the lack of any minimum redundancy protections in law, which on the surface is what this strike is actually about. Thankfully Darien Fenton’s minimum redundancy bill has just been drawn from the ballot. The bill is based on a report endorsed by the CTU and Business NZ in the final days of the last Government, and it’s been sitting on the Minister of Labour’s desk for nine months waiting to be actioned.

Fenton’s bill will hopefully bring some focus to the issue of minimum redundancy. With the best part of 2000 Kiwis a week becoming unemployed without redundancy protection there’s never been a better time than now. In the meantime the lines engineers deserve our full support in their fight against Telecom and its contracting model.

31 comments on “Big issues in Telecom lines strike”

  1. Having worked for Telecom in the past, I know what sneaky tricks they use, good luck to the line engineers!!!

    • Daniel 1.1

      My Name is Daniel ,

      Let me start by saying by the 27th of September 2009 I will be made redundant by Transfield Services. I do not get a redundancy package just hand the keys back and I’m on my way. We have been given only one opportunity of employment by Vision Stream and thats to be an owner operator. By working this model you lose all working rights, they tell you what to do, when and where to work or else if you reject the work they won’t give you the work the next day. You will be losing annual leave, sick leave and holiday pay, which means, you will have to work 7 days a week from 7am to 7pm and also be put on a call out roster. This will result in no family time, no social life, and no friends. It’s all about dog eat dog mentality. Public liability ACC, Provisional tax, Insurances and the list goes on. Basically at the end of the day I would have to get into more debt to have a job, so in other words, we are going to have to buy our jobs back.

      Let me ask this question how did this all start? It all comes down to stats. We in the industry know that stats can be misleading for example:

      You have a technician that is on a wage model and you have a technician that is on a codes model. Whats been happening the technician thats been on the code model gets assigned all the work. Then, the technician thats on the wage model gets the scraps plus, all the 2 man jobs. Now when the field manager and Telecom looks at the stats they see that the technician on the code model is highly productive which puts the technician on a wage model at a disadvantage. The stats show that the wage model is unsucessful it does not show that the work wasn’t distributed evenly, does not show that the code technician gets all the cream, it does not show that the company does not want to pay overtime on a wage model etc etc etc.

      But don’t get me wrong, there will always be the minimal technician that will not literately want to be productive. Unfortunately the codes technician is gauged against the unproductive technician. The other thing is quality and productivity, They will never go hand in hand and I’m talking from experience because I pride myself in quality

      For those who may ask the question why, of those in the industry who do not think of becoming an owner operator viable the answer is simple, the answer is in the question, if it was viable everyone would be keen to do it, its not as if we havent been given enough time to work it out,

      1) The progress to this stage has already been seen as offered, an incentive basis based on a pay per job senario and while not many people have taken this option, those that have definately found that they would be able to generate more income via this means then on wages. However this predictively as soon as they have established in less than a year in earnings, that they’ve been making good money, More money then some higher managers would be paid.
      This is my point , people who generate this income choose to sacrifice and work the hours that are required to generate this income .And their we have it,we were given the incentive to make more money and we did it.So those that had made the choice on codes are being penalized for making money.So the owner operator with the overheads cut you back to 55- 60%.For those of us who have other commitments in life and choose to work the average 40hrs a week we should not be subjected to a wage decrease because of this choice.

      All this has leads to Telecoms decision to bringing Vision Stream to the market. It gives them no responsibilty and accountability, all this is put on the dependant contractor.People will have to do between 13 to 25 jobs a day as a provisioner, 10 jobs a day as a Residential\Business faultman, 5 jobs a day as a cable faultman etc etc etc. That is how much you need to do to cover all expenses and getting paid is not guaranteed due to quality checks, health and safety issues etc etc etc.

      The codes are not black and white and do not cover all your materials that you use on a job which I personally feel is misleading. We will have to pay for our own health and safety courses and other courses, so at the end of the day no matter how you put it, Employee to the company is better.They are in control.With no withholding tax and benefits its pointless being a owner operator.
      Just like when you buy your own vehicle ,Then pay $150–00 to put the label CHORUS prevents to do other third party work.These are the reasons why we are on strike, fighting for workers rights and better conditions .This model breaks the Multi – National Law for worker to have the right for a Union to represent them.They are their legal representation but this breaks up unions so it leaves you vunerable.
      So we as workers are representing NZ. Family values and with pride what we do as skilled Technicians.
      All we ask is the support of the nation to stop this from happening

      Cheers

      Dan

  2. Lanthanide 2

    I suspect that this protest is probably larger than Telecom was bargaining for.

    It seems to me that if the majority of these workers keep striking and don’t sign up to the new contracts, Visionstream simply won’t have any choice but to relent.

    I hope they do.

  3. Olwyn 3

    Good on you for catching the protest yesterday. I joined them for a while today myself. I also note that they are getting precious little attention on the mainstream media. I very much hope they win this one – in their favour, the public are well disposed to engineers, and do not have much respect for Telecom. Hence they may have more to lose by following through with their evil plan than by abandoning it.

  4. insider 4

    Flawed logic doesn’t make an argument. Problem with your logic is these are not Telecom employees. They are not even Telecom contractors. They are employees of other companies whose contracts with Telecom have ended. Those companies pitched and lost.

    If Visionstream can’t deliver then I expect there will be significant penalties in the contract which will put a bottom line under what bargains they can drive with their contractors.

    Fenton’s bill is unlikely to even consider them. If it does you may as well say that all contracts in NZ are for life and can never ever be tendered.

    The real game is to get the staff of these companies to hold out, work collectively and ensure Visionstream and Telecom face the prospect of really hurting before they agree to work for them. You never know, they may like the new structure and do better out of it.

    • IrishBill 4.1

      Agreed, they do need to work collectively but there are lot of long-service guys here. Darien’s bill would mean they got a decent payout after their companies lost the contracts. I’d imagine that buffer would increase their bargaining power with the new contractor considerably by allowing them to hold out for longer.

    • Daveo 4.2

      What Bill said. They’d get redundancy from Darien Fenton’s bill because regardless of who their legal employer is they’d still be covered by the law.

      The point about competitive contracting is well made though. Telecom’s been pulling this bullshit for years but this really is a step too far.

      The reality is these engineers work for Telecom. At some point businesses need to be held responsible for what’s happening to their workforce.More to the point, they need to be held to responsible for what their consciously chosen employment practices are doing to their workforce.

  5. vto 5

    United you stand

  6. Up here in Northland the situation for these techs is worse. The distances they need to travel on a daily basis are huge. This is the worst case of employer abuse inflicted upon a large group of workers I have ever seen.
    They are basically being forced to buy their jobs, give up any legal protection as employees and in return they get to earn a lot less money.

    I am glad to see you guys are finally getting on to this one.
    The stress this is causing families up here is unacceptable.

  7. jason 7

    insider, I am a transfield employee and simply telecum is our largest contract holder. Under the model we are represented as an arm of telecomes’ chorus. We are bound by a number of acts and because of the contracts we have, or had; for all intents and purposes, we are telebom.

    When the contracts we originally signed were losing our company hundreds of thousands of dollars a week, the only avenue for Lockwood our general manager was to inform telescom of a plan to reduce numbers. We were implicit in applying union weight to the contract standoff by voting to strike. Telecom then relented signing a new contract deal.

    Ever since then telethon has resented Transfield. You can bet they gave visionless the Auckland contract just to break the engineers union. Currently the union are much like work and income; signing up workers in droves.

    • Jenny 7.1

      Dead right. It is all about getting rid of the union. It reminds me of the Patricks dispute in Australia. Where the Ports Companys sacked all the wharfies and told them to apply for jobs with the Contracting company Patricks ltd.

      The campaign against Patricks was led by the Maritime Union of Australia fully backed by the wider Australian union movement.

      Victory was total for the unions. And the Ports companys had to drop Patricks and rehire the union workforce directly.

      The very famous slogan of the day was “MUA here to stay”.

      The Last news we heard from Patricks ltd. was when they were delisted.

      • Swampy 7.1.1

        The waterfront unions in Australia and other countries are the most militant in the world.

        There is only so much of that sort of nonsense any government should put up with. The complaints are always loudest when Labour gets chucked out of office.

        • BLiP 7.1.1.1

          There is only so much of that sort of nonsense any government should put up with.

          Other way around, Stumpy: there’s only so much nonsense a Union worth its salt will put up with. The government should shut up and do what its told. Try thinking inside of your box.

  8. Askewed 8

    So is the point of this article to say Chorus should have stuck with Transfield instead of bringing in a new player? Why should a large Australian company like Transfield get to dictate the terms of Chorus’ service contracts?

    If Visionstream can provide a better deal, then why shouldn’t Chorus go with that?

    Oh and also, Transfield already have 20-25 technicians on the owner-operator model and they are creaming it by all accounts (without the EPMU’s ‘help’). The same thing has happened in Australia for telco owner operators.

    This is actually an opportunity for ambitious hardworking techs to pull themselves up by their own boot straps – its unfortunate this has been lost amidst the Union’s self-serving campaign.

    • Daveo 8.1

      Hmmm… inside information, a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts and an attack on the union. Do I smell a company plant?

      • Askewed 8.1.1

        What inside information? Publicly available figures from Transfield? lol Both sides of the story are available if you want to go beyond the union’s website for your background.

        But yeah I do know people in the industry, guys who have signed up to bloody good deals with visionstream – the only difference is that they havent been sucked into the union fear rhetoric

        • Ferdinand 8.1.1.1

          How about you share the details of those “bloody good deals”? Because I’m only seeing rhetoric from you so far.

          • Askewed 8.1.1.1.1

            Sure – the one that springs to mind is a mate who works out west. He was earning up to 62k including overtime – now estimates he’s gonna be on closer to 90-100k if he does the same amount of jobs in a week/day. BP also use this model for their tanker drivers – ask them if they want to go back to an employee model! The hard workers do well under this model.

            • Daveo 8.1.1.1.1.1

              Having seen the contract and the independent analysis I can assure you your mate is dreaming. If he actually exists, that is.

            • insider 8.1.1.1.1.2

              Hmm. Let’s set up a contract to encourage petrol tanker drivers to push their work hours up as much as possible. That’s a real eye on safety.

            • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1.1.1.3

              Start here.

              See, the bright spark techs have had the contract gone over and they estimate that, although they’ll have an income of well over 100k, once expenses etc are taken out it’ll be down to ~12k.

  9. Roger Randall 9

    Good on them for not lying down. Whos the halfwit with the TRT flag?

  10. jason 10

    Askewed, you dont know what you’re talking about. I’ve seen the visionless contract and if anyone can make a living on it i’ll go he. Anyway how naive are you? teletron have had numerous players doing their contract work for them over the years and none of them have got rich so far. I guess its like WW1, one more time over the trenches; they won’t expect it this time.

  11. George.com 11

    A basic corporate tool of business turn employees in subcontractors. Risk is transferred from the company on to sub-contractors. Moreover, the protections under law made available to employees do not apply to sub-contractors. One less set of laws for the company to have to deal with.

  12. mike kerikeri 12

    Askewed…
    this just in from australia !
    you might want to show your mates this asap and there are a few other supporting accounting and barristor documents I can add to this to really make your mate cry……
    take some tissues with you.

    Ref: SLD 09/329
    6 August 2009
    Dear NZ Comrades,
    The Victorian Branch of the TSCA has been inundated with emails from
    NZ in relation to the transfer from being paid employees to being
    subcontractors. It’s impossible to answer them individually, so we’ll give
    a broad overview of how the same situation in Australia has affected
    subcontractors.
    At the outset, the proposal to be ‘self-employed’ can look quite attractive,
    and some people like the idea of running their own business. However,
    the situation for most is not that good and once people are committed
    financially for a van, tools etc, it’s difficult to get out.
    The contracts entered into are completely one-sided and subbies are
    entirely at the mercy of the prime contractor. Contracts are usually able
    to be changed with minimum notice and never in the interest of the
    subby. Rates are always being changed with some subbies complaining
    that they were earning more 5 years ago than they are now. Hours of
    work are changed regularly, the distribution of work is haphazard with
    some subbies running from one end of Melbourne to the other – and back
    again – to do jobs.
    In Queensland, some subbies are now expected to work 3 out of 4
    Saturdays and 2 out of 4 Sunday a month with the threat that if they don’t
    do it they will be finished up. There is also the issue of fines for reworks
    etc. These are completely in the control of the prime contractor and some
    subbies have been fined with little or no opportunity for them to defend
    themselves.
    Subbies in Melbourne and Queensland recently stayed off the job for a
    few days to have the situation addressed. Until then, management just
    ignored the complaints for month after month until they got a reaction
    from the subbies. Melbourne subbies had a victory, but only because they
    stuck together, and that’s what NZ workers will have to do, and sooner
    rather than later.
    Training is non -existent for Subbies and, if anyone wants to do a course,
    it’s usually at your own expense.
    Part of the problem is that prime contractors tender for the work in the
    first place and then have to compete with other companies down the track
    for the ongoing work. They compete with each other on price and it’s
    usually a race to the bottom, and always at your expense. Every time a
    prime contractor loses out, the subbies are offered work with the
    successful tender. They are promised that ‘nothing will change, rates will
    stay the same etc’, but it never does.

    It’s not a good situation for anyone to find themselves in – full-time job disappearing, and the
    need to continue to earn a living – with limited choice of employer.
    Ideally, no one should sign a contract on an individual basis. We all know that we are at our
    strongest when we act collectively – and that’s what needs to happen in this case.
    The chance to have any real input to the contracts is NOW! The chance won’t come around
    again once you are acting independent of each other, and they play you one out.
    The best option is to join/maintain membership of the EPMU and present a united workforce
    to Vision Stream who are not known as being union friendly.
    It’s not a good news story, I’m afraid. Subbies in Australia have been belted left, right and
    centre over the years and the same will probably happen in NZ if the effort is not put in at
    this early stage.
    We wish you well and hope that your experience is better than here in Australia.
    Yours in solidarity
    Enquiries:
    LEN COOPER JIM REID
    TSCA M. 0425 772 753
    Email: [NOSPAM]
    TSCA
    TELECOMMUNICATIONS
    INDUSTRY
    SUB CONTRACTORS’
    ASSOCIATION LTD
    1/139 Queensberry Street
    Carlton South 3053
    Ph. 03 9349 4411
    Fax: 03 9349 3488

  13. Swampy 13

    It’s a net outcome that Labour didn’t predict, they spent too much time listening to their Left wing interest groups when they brought in a whole lot of laws increasing the costs of running businesses in this country.

    If Telecom wants to contract out work, a part of it will be driven by the Government interfering in their business (LLU) which so far all the cost of has been borne by Telecom’s shareholders. Everyone knows Labour would have liked to have gone a lot further because shareholders don’t count in their world.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.1

      Read what’s happening swampy. Your precious shareholders are trying very hard to rip off the workers. It’s got nothing to do with how much it costs to do business in NZ which is SFA. It’s got everything to do with greedy, selfish shareholders who aren’t worth squat.

    • Daveo 13.2

      What a crazy warped worldview Swampy must have to think the problem here is too much regulation. No evidence, just vague references to “a whole lot of laws” and a gigantic mental block when it comes to the fact we’re officially one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business. Strikes me as someone who doesn’t read the facts before opening his mouth.

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