NBN Co said it is unable to see how a restructure of its field services contracts may result in large cuts to what technicians are being paid, and has called in an “independent auditor” to investigate.
Chief operating officer Kathrine Dyer faced intense questions at senate estimates on Thursday on issues with the company’s ‘Unify’ program, which changed the way the company outsources field services to major delivery partners.
Dyer was unable to confirm up to 33 percent cuts to the amount paid to technicians across a number of pieces of work, such as new activations.
She said that an “independent auditor” had been called in to compare rates pre- and post-Unify, and to essentially map out and replicate the pay cuts that subcontractors report seeing - and have spent weeks protesting.
The audit, she said, would take “a number of weeks” to complete.
“Based on the concerns that we’ve heard from subcontractors, we have formally written to our delivery partners and we’ve met with them,” Dyer said.
“We hear the concerns of the subcontractors. We have brought in an independent auditor to look at those two models because we don’t see it in aggregate, we don’t see what you’re talking to us about.
“We’re taking this very seriously.”
Dyer said that she had given the auditors a “specific scope” to produce “line-of-sight traceability from the original contracts and the actual work activity.”
“If there were even any additional administrative duties that changed as part of that activity, I want the full comparison played out for me at a commercial rate,” she said.
“In addition to that, they will be doing field visits and they will be listening to subcontractors. I would say they’re going to do a very thorough review.”
While not necessarily understanding the scope of reductions in pay to technicians, Dyer did concede that rates had gone up or down in some instances, “depending on the work activity”.
However, she alleged that some subcontractors “are confused” about the new rate structure “and dont realise that they can claim multiple things for a piece of work they’re doing.”
In addition, Dyer argued that some aspects of field work that may have previously been lucrative, such as activations, now had much lower volumes, which could impact technicians’ take-home pay.
She said that about 1800 technicians are out in the field working on NBN Co’s behalf on any one day.
Dyer also said in the meantime, NBN Co had launched an “interim” payment of $75 per job to top-up technicians’ pay while the audit is underway.
The additional payment can be claimed by subcontractors through to the end of July.
NBN Co also faced questions on the cuts taken by the various players that sat between NBN Co and the subcontractor.
Dyer noted she had no visibility over arrangements made by delivery partners with prime contractors and then subcontractors around labour rates.
NBN Co Stephen Rue said the network builder hadn’t “changed the model” on contracting out field work, and that it had been around for as long as NBN Co had existed.
“We have got a temporary glitch, but we haven’t changed how the telecommunications industry has worked,” he said.
“It’s been like this for 10 years and if anything we have more governance than ever.”
Dyer said that Unify had been negotiated with delivery partners through a request for proposal (RFP) process.
She said that rates were not discussed with parties outside of this, such as with unions.