'Rallying call' to Chorus subcontractors prompts outcry

EPMU claims that Visionstream contract is putting phone and data service at risk denied

A union’s claim that phone and data lines in Auckland and Northland are under threat is being vigourously denied by Chorus and its contractor Visionstream.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) today leaked an internal memo sent by Visionstream executives to independent contractors last week claiming that for the past nine weeks “we have been the worst performing service company that Chorus engage maintenance work with.”

Chorus awarded contracts to three companies – Visionstream, Downers and Transfield – in 2009. Collectively the 10-year contracts are worth around $3 billion. Visionstream brought in a new owner-operator model, effectively turning a paid workforce into independent contractors. The move was vigourously opposed by the EPMU at the time.

In the memo – which Visionstream claims was a “rallying call”, and the EPMU says points to a “loss of coordination and management” - Visionstream managers Paul Willdig and Gordy Whyte use strong language to outline the situation to its workforce.

“For the last nine weeks, on average up to 1000 customers per day in the Visionstream managed areas have had their service impacted in one form or the other... It is fair to say our KPI performance has been out of band for a longer period than that caused by the Christchurch earthquake,” says the memo.

“To put it simply – we are currently going through the worst performance we have faced as individual companies and Visionstream ever, and that includes the volatile transition in September/October 2009.”

EPMU national secretary Bill Newson says the memo shows the Visionstream subcontractors are being called on to work for the tenth week in a row in the weekend.

Visionstream says memo taken out of context

But Visionstream general manager Andrew Stevens says the EPMU has taken the memo out of context. He says it was written by lower level operational managers, and that there are some red-faced people in the company today. “The increase in faults was a direct result of the recent high volumes of rain, higher than seasonally expected. The fault volume this winter has significantly exceeded recent years, and this has naturally stretched resources even though productivities and work performance have both improved since the introduction of Visionstream nearly two years ago, says Stevens in a statement emailed to Computerworld. “It is incorrect to suggest that any contractor was forced to work for the last 10 weekends in a row as we work collaboratively with our contracted workforce to develop work schedules that provide both safe working practices and safe working durations to achieve our service targets, even in busy times. “The EPMU has made the erroneous link that the short term problems Visionstream were experiencing last week with faults restoration, was representative of the performance of our complete contract with Chorus. It was not. There is no such problem with the other products and services we deliver for Chorus. The comments in the internal memo need to be taken in context with reference to our faults restoration performance last week. " Stevens later told Computerworld there are just under 400 subcontractors in a number of employment arrangements. These include owner-operators, collective arrangements between subcontractors and trainees that are employed directly. He says no one has worked more than six days a week. He says performance levels are now back to acceptable levels. Chorus backs Visionstream approach In a statement by Chorus, the company says it is pleased with Visionstream’s efforts to “galvanise the support of their field services team”. “In the last month, Visionstream has repaired more than 21,000 phone and broadband faults within 30 hours of customers reporting them. They’ve also connected more than 16,000 new telephone and broadband services in homes and businesses north of the Bombay Hills, 97 percent of these were completed within the time agreed with customers.”

Chorus says it is concerned that claims by the EPMU will hurt the reputation of the workforce and “irresponsibly suggest to the public” that delays in service are due to anything other than high rainfall.

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Tags telecomVisionstreamandrew stevensChorus

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