Visionstream stays mum on subcontractor layoffs

Dean Winter said he wants the fibre-to-the-premise rollout of the NBN that has been promised to Tasmania

Labor MP Ed Husic has reassured IT industry body TasICT that the rollout of National Broadband Network (NBN) in Tasmania will be completed by the planned target of 2015, amid speculation that a key NBN partner in the state is having issues with its subcontractors.

The comments from the parliamentary secretary for broadband come amid reports that Visionstream subcontractors have laid off around 200 NBN workers in the state.

Dean Winter, executive officer at TasICT, said that so far Visionstream has been “difficult” to get information out of regarding the redundancies.

“I understand in talking to a few local media down here that they’re not having much luck either. We would love to see positive resolutions coming out. It’s not good for our industry in Tasmania to see a lot of speculation about the NBN,” he said.

Winter said he has been trying to extract information from Visionstream since June this year following crisis meetings with the company and its subcontractors, who said they were unhappy with erratic work schedules and unpaid invoices.

“We were given a response saying that work could only be done that did not involve asbestos. So, like everyone else, we remain in the dark about what issues [needed] to be resolved between contractors and subcontracts,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate there is so little information coming from Visionstream publicly and the contracts they have in place with their subcontractors prevent those businesses from making any public comment.”

Winter said another issue hampering the rollout of the NBN in Tasmania was the temporary halt of remediation of Telstra’s pits. That work will now recommence 19 August.

Telstra said “additional safeguards” have now been put in place around asbestos management, including requiring contractors to ensure their staff have completed asbestos training for the handling and removal of the product from pits.

“It is good news yesterday with Telstra and we’re hoping Visionstream and its contractors can come to an arrangement in the near future,” Winter said.

By the end of 2015, some 208,400 premises are expected to be covered by the NBN in the state.

With a federal election due in a month, Winter has sought assurances from the Coalition that the fibre-to-the-premise rollout in Tasmania would be protected regardless of the election's outcome.

Winter said he now has written assurances from shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull which confirm previous public statements that the Coalition will honour existing contracts.

But Winter said that should contractual issues continue, “it would be very hard to make a case that all those contracts should be maintained”.

Winter is keen to see Tasmania fully connected to the NBN by 2015. However, there “appear to be continuing issues and the fact that a lot of work has been let go indicates that there are still issues with those contracts and they really need to be resolved,” he said.

“The next month is critical with the NBN rollout [getting] back on track, and that includes getting back in the Telstra pits and the correct remediation with the right training and the right workers.

“It also involves Visionstream and its subcontractors being able to come to an arrangement where the subcontractors feel like they can get the job done at a reasonable rate and that Visionstream is comfortable enough to get the work going at the right speed that means we’re going to see a 2015 completion date.”

Visionstream has been contacted for comment.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

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