Telecom New Zealand faced union protests in Auckland today in relation to its re-shuffle of engineering contractors.
New Zealand's Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU)
and network engineers from Telecom contractors Downer and
Transfield staged a series of drive-by protests through central Auckland. EPMU national organiser for the telecommunications and power
industry, Joe Gallagher, said some 450 vans took part in the
The van protest streaming through Auckland (Credit: Alain Russell)
The vans featured the livery of
Telecom New Zealand's network arm, Chorus. Gallagher said the engineers were angry at being forced to become
owner-operators instead of employees as a result of Chorus restructuring the
contractor deals between the three Australian-owned companies.
In the past, Transfield and Downer EDI Engineering were contracted by
Telecom (and later by Chorus as operational separation was mandated).
Gallagher said a new company, Visionstream, will now serve the
populous Auckland and Northland regions, a move announced last week
and brought in, he said, "with great secrecy".
As a result of the restructuring, engineers that were employees
of Downer and Transfield will now be expected to become independent
owner-operators. This means, Gallagher said, that they have to buy
their own expensive vans and gear, which must meet Chorus' specifications.
All in all, Gallagher said around 900 people would be affected by
the changes. He believes there would be no benefit to engineers as a result of the
changes, and said it was unfair to shift costs to his members in a
recession. "It's not like our guys are earning millions as it is —
most are on NZ$18 to $20 an hour, and have been on that money for
the past 20 years," he said.
Gallagher added the collective agreements with Downer and
Transfield had now expired, but believes it's necessary to make a
stand to stop Telecom from "destroying the industry, like they seem
to do every five years". He would not say if any further action by
the union is on the cards.
Chorus spokesperson Melanie Marshall said her company was a little
disappointed with the protests, but disputed the turnout was as
large as the EPMU claimed. Marshall estimated there were only 80 vans
in the drive-by action, and noted that the engineers were back at
work at 11 o'clock.
It's not like our guys are earning millions as it is
EPMU organiser Joe Gallagher
According to Marshall, the changes are necessary for Chorus to
meet its commitments to customers. "We need more flexibility with
time," Marshal said, as customers want to be able to book
installers and maintenance engineers outside working hours.
The changes are part of a 10-year contract that Chorus is
signing with the three Australian companies. In total, Marshall
said the contract was worth NZ$3 billion, and that it would help
provide certainty for everyone over a long period of time.
Marshall said Visionstream's owner-operator model was already in
place in Australia, and that the company had "processes" to help
engineers shifting from being employees and needing to finance
vehicles and equipment.
She said that Chorus had been consulting with the union and its
members over the changes, holding "meet and greets" with
Visionstream and providing information on the plans. A Visionstream
spokesperson said the union was being disingenuous in saying
engineers will be worse off under the owner-operator model.
The company will provide training on how to run a company, as well as
financial support, including interest-free loans to purchase
vehicles and equipment, the spokesperson said.
According to the spokesperson, the owner-operator model has
worked to the benefit of Telstra network engineers in Australia,
with no ex-employees regretting the move to independent
contractors. Saying the union was fully briefed on the changes, the
Visionstream spokesperson said his company was happy to continue to
engage with engineers and that it is keen to retain the skilled