Well Yeah, Of Course The NBN's A Mess: Unions

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Thousands of subcontractors given "no proper training" and poor government handling have caused no end of problems for the NBN rollout, according to the communication workers' union.

The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union of Australia -- the CEPU, also known as the Communication Workers Union or CWU -- has called Malcolm Turnbull's multi-technology mix NBN "a shambolic mess", not only for end users connected successfully but for the workers dealing with what it calls the "disaster" of the infrastructure project.

CEPU Communications Division national president Shane Murphy has hit out at Turnbull with some incredibly strong words: "The NBN was meant to be a critical piece of nation building infrastructure, but at the moment it's nothing more than a national embarrassment.

"The NBN had the potential to be a world-class network and provide jobs and training opportunities for workers to develop new skills. Instead, we've ended up in a situation where we've got frustrated customers on a shonky network being held together with plastic bags and ringbarked cables.

"This is Turnbull's NBN -- a national joke. The Prime Minister can try to handball the blame all he likes, but the reality is this mess is all his making. We warned this government that this was coming, but the Prime Minister refused to listen.

"We've got thousands of subcontractors who are given no proper training and are being squeezed by principal contractors who are making billions at the taxpayer's expense. This government's flawed approach to this key infrastructure project is enabling that behaviour.

"Not only has the Prime Minister failed to deliver on his promises to deliver a better NBN faster and cheaper, he has failed the workforce by allowing the biggest pyramid sham contracting scheme the country has ever seen to flourish throughout the industry."

Four Corners' "What's Wrong With The NBN" report last night covered shonky installations by untrained subcontractors, including one where a fibre cable was buried without any protective conduit, and incorrect equipment was used to terminate fibre optic cable.

When grilled by Four Corners reporter Geoff Thompson last night, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow said that the speed and complexity of the rollout had led to compromises, and issues that "no one was able to ever predict".

You can watch the report or read the full transcript here, or read an abridged version below.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Sub-contractors get paid per job completed - so there's plenty of incentive to do jobs quickly and move on to the next one.

Pete Menzies says a lot of his jobs are fixing the mistakes of others.

Slightly thicker than a human hair, optical fibre can be hard to see, but Pete Menzies - who did a 4-year apprenticeship - can easily spot evidence of inadequate training.

He's got the photos to prove it.

PETER MENZIES, SUB-CONTRACTOR: You see these, how all the ends of these are open, they were all full of mud.

That's a multiport and on the end of those are supposed to be little caps.

So, all three, all four of those out of one multiport were faulty, because the dirt's gotten right down inside that and couldn't clean it, so NBN had to come out and replace that multiport.

I wasn't actually a witness to this but ...

GEOFF THOMPSON: In this photo which became a viral email between sub-contractors, a copper connector appears to have been used to connect fibre.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Would that work?

PETER MENZIES: No, not at all.

GEOFF THOMPSON: What does that suggest to you?

PETER MENZIES: People going out and doing jobs who aren't qualified, who aren't trained properly to do the job.

I have no idea what was going through their mind really.

If you're not paid the right amount of money to fix it properly you're just going to fix it as quickly as you can and get out of there.

I can't explain why people would do it. And it's obviously gone down to inexperience and not being paid enough money to do the job.

So you get paid per job, and you want to roll out 10 jobs in a day, well, you're going to cut as many corners as you can, and just get the job done.

...

GEOFF THOMPSON: Do you think this is just a natural effect of the rush to get this done at the moment that a lot of contractors are getting hired very quickly often with little training?

BILL MORROW: I don't think there's any doubt, the fact that we are setting a new precedent in terms of how fast a network can be built, how quickly we are 'gonna transition everybody over to this.

We have to remember, this is an industry wide transformation, and it's unprecedented in terms of the magnitude of what this is.

It brings to it complexity.

It brings to it challenges that no one was able to ever predict, so we're seeing these issues emerge.

GEOFF THOMPSON: On the ground, it leads to compromises.

BILL MORROW: It does, and it shouldn't though.

[Four Corners / CEPU]

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