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Report into Chorus subbies finds fault

Paul Brislen, Editor. 15 April 2019, 7:16 am

More than 100 of the sub-contracting firms working for Chorus during the rollout of the Ultra Fast Broadband project may have breached labour laws.

Of the 1600 workers employed, half were migrants on temporary work visas, despite early assurances from Chorus that the company would train New Zealanders to do the bulk of the work.

Now, Chorus has blacklisted 22 companies from working for the network operator for failing to complete adequate paperwork on who these companies employed and the work being done.

Chorus came under investigation by the Labour Inspectorate last year following complaints from local union E Tu that some workers were being forced to work for free in order to "demonstrate" their suitability and that Chorus was cynically turning a blind eye to numerous labour violations.

The Labour Inspectorate investigated and in October last year said it would be taking action against 73 sub-contractors and describing the breaches as 'widespread" and that investigations were hampered by migrant workers' fears for their ability to stay in New Zealand if they reported on their employers. Worker visas are often tied to a particular job or employer and for many migrant workers, any move to report employers can lead to deportation for the exploited worker.

The UFB rollout has been plagued by stories of sub-standard installations and shoddy workmanship, however this was put down to early teething problems with the process and in recent months deployments have become a great deal less contentious.

However, Chorus now faces a massive surge in demand with the up-coming Rugby World Cup and Spark's intention to stream the games live online. The expectation is that a number of customers will want UFB installed before the kick off and that could stretch resources even further.

How Chorus copes with that will be closely watched. The company has promised to pay workers "decent pay" and will have to work out what to do about staff who have been required to buy their own equipment and vehicles but are earning less than the minimum wage.

The report includes 23 recommendations for future improvements.


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