As angry workers moved to march on its North Sydney offices on 3 May, NBN Co conceded that it was aware of some issues its delivery partners and field technicians have experienced with its recently deployed SMAX-Go mobile application for managing and logging work requests.
“We have significantly improved the app over the last few weeks to address functionality, system performance and general user experience pain-points, and will continue to modify and enhance the app in the next two weeks,” the National Broadband Network (NBN) builder said in a statement.
“We appreciate technicians’ patience while we work to improve the app.”
The comments came as at least 100 of the network builder’s subcontractors met in Sydney's Parramatta Park with the intention of gathering outside NBN Co’s North Sydney office as part of a convoy to protest what the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) of Australia has called “NBN Co’s shambolic management and pyramid contracting scheme that’s leaving workers struggling to make ends meet”.
The app issues are the least of the concerns raised by the CEPU on behalf of NBN subcontractors, with the union saying hundreds of technicians working on the NBN project around the country had decided to walk off the job over “cuts to their pay rates, a debacle causing chaos in job bookings and scheduling, pyramid sham contracting arrangements and overall poor treatment”.
CEPU national president Shane Murphy called on Australia’s Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher, to announce a Senate Inquiry into the NBN rollout and the “issues that are plaguing it”.
“The mismanagement of Australia’s NBN network continues to be left unaddressed and workers have had enough,” Murphy said. “The time has come – we need Minister Fletcher to urgently announce a national inquiry into the NBN so we get can these issues fixed.
“The NBN rollout has been plagued with issues from day one, and workers won’t put up with it any longer. NBN Co needs to scrap their dodgy pyramid contracting model, improve pay rates and ditch the shonky booking app.
“Subcontractors are being forced to sign new contracts with NBN Co Delivery partners which cuts their pay, all whilst NBN executives paid themselves $77 million in bonuses during the pandemic. It’s infuriating. These NBN Co subcontractors have continued to keep the country’s internet services connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, turning up for work, day in, day out. They deserve better from NBN Co.
“These technicians are highly skilled workers – yet because of the NBN’s ‘pyramid style’ sham contracting scheme, it’s the executives and middle-men who are profiting from Australia’s NBN while the people doing the work are getting get ripped off and consumers continue to suffer with substandard connections,” he added.
Murphy claimed that NBN Co’s subcontractors were fed up with cuts to their pay and the “shambolic booking system” and suggested workers wanted NBN Co to get rid of the “dodgy” work app, increase technician pay and commit to “scrapping the pyramid subcontracting rorts".
While NBN Co was quick to own up to issues with its app, revealing its efforts to improve the app and its user experience, it has been less specific about how it intends to respond to the other concerns raised by the union on behalf of workers.
“NBN Co engages delivery partners to fulfil many of the company’s construction and maintenance programs on its behalf,” a spokesperson for NBN Co told ARN. “As is standard industry practice in the telecommunications and construction industries, our construction and maintenance contracts place responsibility for compliance with the law and relevant legislation on our delivery partners in relation to the contracted services.
“Delivery partners are free to use their own employees or subcontractors when fulfilling the work and maintenance outlined in our contracts with them,” it said.
NBN Co said it was “working constructively” with the CEPU and that it was seeking to maintain and support strong, productive working relationships with its delivery partners and their respective subcontractors.
“NBN Co appreciates the ongoing dedication and diligence of the thousands of highly qualified field technicians and network engineers who work hard to maintain the reliability and performance of the NBN network across Australia,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also noted that the stop-work meeting called by the union would not impact normal NBN network operations, new connection or assurance orders to rapidly correct any network faults that may arise.