If Optus contractors BSA and Stream Communications don't work out their subcontractors' problems by 1 February, Optus subcontractors across the country will walk out, according to a spokesperson for a subcontractor group.
Optus subcontractors working for BSA and Stream Communications in NSW had walked off the job on 12 December, complaining of low pay and having to put up with poor procedures.
"The subbies have been like bonded labour," a spokesperson for the Telecommunications Subcontractors Association (TSCA) told ZDNet.com.au. "They really have no basic rights."
The TSCA was set up during the Howard years when it was made illegal for subcontractors to be members of a union, the spokesperson said. When the NSW subcontractors held their strike, they hadn't known the TSCA existed, but when they found out they were keen for the TSCA to take over the campaign and negotiations for them.
The negotiations won't be held directly with Optus, but with the subcontractors' employers BSA and Stream Communications — who hold contracts with Optus to carry out installations and maintenance. BSA and Stream Communications said they were willing to work through the subcontractors' issues so long as the workers agreed to came back to work and the TSCA suggested that the subcontractors take the two companies at their word.
"If the promise turned out to be empty, then we would help organise action," said the spokesperson for the TSCA, who suggested that this time it would be national and not just in NSW. The spokesperson believed such an action would have a large effect on Optus, which had a very small technical team.
Don Muirhead, MD of Stream Communication, had told ZDNet.com.au he feared that if BSA and Stream Communications could not provide subcontractors to do the work, other contractors would do the job.
The spokesperson for the TSCA didn't think that was likely, since the contracting workforce had been built up over decades. "There's not hundreds of contractors out there who are trained and doing that work."
The TSCA spokesperson wasn't optimistic of resolving the issues before the 1 February deadline. "The history of the subcontracting business in telecommunications would tend to mitigate against that. The history is that Optus and the two contracting companies serve only their bottom line and they've made the subbies pay for that dearly," they said. "Let's hope the five-day strike has taught them something."
Muirhead said that the TSCA had not contacted Stream Communications at all yet. He said that all the parties, Optus, BSA and Stream and the subcontractors, had been working together to come up with a solution. "We remain in ongoing conversation with Optus and with our contractors, and that's what we'll continue to do," he said.