The Guardian 15 June, 2005

Foxtel kicked off

More than 100,000 Foxtel subscribers have had their signals scrambled by installation bungles, one year after unionised contractors warned the pay-tv outfit to lift training standards. The blunders are a serious stumbling block to Foxtelís digital rollout, and telephony executives are looking around for someone to blame.

Foxtel has pointed the finger at its parent company, Telstra, which, in turn, is trying to level hefty fines on independent contractors. Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union(CEPU) rep Shane Murphy said under-resourced contractors would fight back.

"If they attempt to fine these guys, or send them back at no charge, we will be calling a meeting and seeing where we go from there", Murphy said.

"One key reason for last yearís strike was to get training on new technology.

"The company agreed but nothing has happened. Most of these guys hadnít worked in telephony before and they are expected to go into peopleís homes, cut into phone lines, then connect the phone lines back to the digital boxes.

"Itís specialist work and, to do it properly, you need a minimum of a fortnightís training. Telstra gives them two hours in the classroom and sends them out."

The independent contractors are at the bottom of a pyramid contracting operation that has been used to slash rates, conditions and training.

Foxtel contracts its cable connections to two international firms, ABB and Siemens Theiss, who, in turn, contract to Telstra, which subcontracts the work to independent operators.

Its satellite connections are contracted to BSA and Downer, then Telstra, then the independents.

Rates at the bottom had been screwed down so far that, since 2003, more than 800 installers have joined the CEPU and fought collectively to improve their situations.

Last year they struck, picketed and blockaded on the way to earning installation rate increases of up to 33 per cent.

Soon after the contractors rolled Telstra and Foxtel, the federal government announced legislation that would make it illegal for them to have union representation in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, where contract disputes are heard.

Shane Murphy says the Independent Contractorsí Bill, proposed by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, would leave the installers fighting commercial giants like Foxtel and Telstra single-handed.

Back to index page