Of the $77.5 million in bonuses NBN Co paid staff in the final six months of last year, $3.5 million went to just eight people.
NBN staff already on salaries greater than $200,000 – of whom there were 775 at the time – took home $35.8 million of the bonus pool, according to figures published earlier this month.
In just six months, NBN’s bonus scheme, or what NBN calls a ‘short-term incentive program’, was doling out nearly twice as much cash at a time when Australia was entering its first recession in 29 years than it had in the entire 2018-19 financial year when staff received a total of $43.3 million in bonuses.
The average payout between July and December last year was around $20,000 but the majority of NBN staff – the 2,865 earning salaries between $100,000 and $200,000 – took home an average bonus of $13,000.
But as always, it pays to be at the top.
The 20 staff on salaries between $400,000 and $500,000 earned an average bonus of $152,000.
And the eight executives earning over $600,000 per year walked away with a cool $440,000 in bonus pay in the final six months of 2020.
NBN Co operated at a loss of $2.1 billion in the same period, according to its half-yearly report.
Speaking at a senate estimates hearing in March, Chairman of NBN Co Dr Ziggy Switkowski defended the bonus scheme, saying it was built on a model created at the organisation seven years ago.
“It’s a very normal model and it produces plausible outcomes,” he said.
“I certainly took the view that, given the performance of NBN, given the criticality of its contribution during COVID and given the contracts we have with our employees, it would lead to the bonuses that we eventually paid.”
NBN quietly provided the table of salary bands to a senate committee earlier this month. Image: Australian Parliament House
In September last year, NBN Co said it would expand its fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) service with a $4.5 billion government cash injection to upgrade the technology.
It was a major policy backflip for the network and communications minister Paul Fletcher who had months earlier rejected calls to upgrade NBN during the pandemic.
Who doesn’t love a bonus?
Earlier this month, NBN technicians marched to the broadband network’s headquarters demanding better pay for the subcontractors who do the actual work of connecting homes to the NBN.
At the time, head of the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU), Shane Murphy, likened NBN’s corporate structure to a pyramid scheme.
“These technicians are highly skilled workers,” he said.
“Yet because of the NBN’s ‘pyramid style’ sham contracting scheme, it’s the executives and middle-men who are profiting from Australia’s NBN while the people doing the work are getting get ripped off and consumers continue to suffer with sub-standard connections.
“Subcontractors are being forced to sign new contracts with NBN Co Delivery partners which cuts their pay, all whilst NBN executives paid themselves $77 million in bonuses during the pandemic. It’s infuriating.”
While the total number of $77.5 million in NBN bonuses has been known since February, the full breakdown of salary bands was only published at the start of this month in response to questions on notice at the recent senate inquiry into Australia Post.
Labor likened the NBN bonuses to the nearly $20,000 worth of Cartier watches former Australia Post CEO Christina Holgate gave to executives as a reward for striking a business deal with banks.
The watches became a national scandal as Holgate was dramatically stood down and shamed in Parliament by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
A Greens-chaired committee this week released its report into the incident calling for the Prime Minister to apologise to Holgate and the Australia Post chair to resign.