The NBN statement of expectations should be amended to explicitly make NBN Co responsible for the working conditions of all members of its extended field force, a senate select committee has said.
Subcontractors performing NBN work described difficult working conditions to the inquiry, with jobs unevenly distributed, poorly paid, and handed to an unending supply of inexperienced ‘technicians’.
NBN Co, meanwhile, was accused of outsourcing the welfare responsibility for its field force, though the company denied this was the case.
The committee made a scathing assessment of the “subcontracting pyramid model” used to farm out NBN work, which it said “facilitates unsustainable employment arrangements for those at the bottom of the subcontracting chain.”
“The committee believes that it is especially unacceptable for unsustainable and unfair contracting arrangements to occur within a project that is funded and administered by the Australian Government,” it said.
“Evidence indicated that there is pressure at every contracting level to make a profit and exert downward pressure on pricing and workforce conditions for smaller operators and individuals.
“As a consequence, the NBN is serviced and maintained largely by individuals who struggle to maintain financial viability and must work long and sometimes unpaid hours in order to survive.”
The committee recommended that the recently revised ministerial statement of expectations for NBN Co be revised again to make NBN Co “responsible” for working conditions throughout its supply chain.
“The committee recommends that the Australian Government amends the NBN Co ministerial statement of expectations to explicitly state that NBN Co is responsible for conditions of work, exploitation and corruption that occurs in its supply chain, including for subcontractors engaged by delivery partners or prime contractors,” it said.
“NBN Co should be directed to prepare and publish a plan for how NBN Co will safeguard, monitor and enforce sustainable rates of pay and fair working conditions for NBN technicians.”
The committee also recommended that the “number of vertical subcontracting arrangements be limited to enhance transparency and accountability, to reduce the inefficient outlay of taxpayer funds and wage suppression that result when too many layers of subcontracting are in the delivery chain.”
If implemented, that would have the impact of reducing the number of layers between workers and NBN Co, potentially resulting in a greater pass-through of money to those actually performing the field work.
It’s unclear to what extent the government might adopt the recommendations.
NBN Co has separately engaged KPMG to audit contractor pay and conditions.
However, the company indicated to the committee that it has made no commitments to make any of the findings of the KPMG report public.