More than 100 NBN sub-contractors walked off the job on Monday morning and made their way to NBN Co’s North Sydney office in protest.

Organised by the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union (CEPU), the protestors vented their frustrations at what CEPU head Shane Murphy referred to as a “pyramid” scheme.

“These technicians are highly skilled workers – 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,” Murphy said.

“The NBN rollout has been plagued with issues from day one, and workers won’t put up with it any longer.

“NBN Co needs to scrap their dodgy pyramid contracting model, improve pay rates and ditch the shonky booking app.

“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.”

Indeed, NBN Co paid out $77.5 million in bonuses to its executives and employees in the last six months of 2020.

At the time, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland compared the payout to the $20,000 former Australia Post CEO Christina Holgate spent on Cartier watches – a spend which saw her effectively fired in a scandal that has continued to plague the government.

NBN subcontractors walked off the job on Monday morning. Image: supplied

Although NBN Co said it was “working constructively with the CEPU”, it defended its “delivery partners” who arrange the boots-on-the-ground work of running cables and keeping the network running.

“As is standard industry practice in the telecommunications and construction industries, our construction and maintenance contracts place responsibility for compliance with the law and relevant legislation on our delivery partners in relation to the contracted services,” an NBN Co spokesperson said in a statement.

“Delivery partners are free to use their own employees or sub-contractors when fulfilling the work and maintenance outlined in our contracts with them.”

Booking app fail

The CEPU also made loud complaints about a ServiceMax Go job booking app NBN Co recently required its subcontractors to use.

In true NBN style, the app’s rollout appears to have been a disaster.

Its Google Play store is filled with irate one-star reviews and apologetic replies from US app developer ServiceMax.

One subcontractor said the app was the worst they had seen and that it “just doesn’t work 90 per cent of [the] time”.

“It is too slow,” they said. “We have to sync again and again. I will not recommend it to any business who is thinking of any work management system. Stay away.”

Multiple users complained, perhaps hyperbolically, that the app was causing physical and emotional pain.

“NBN has now moved to this app and seriously it takes years off my life,” one person said.

“We're in 2021 [but] each page takes at least 20 seconds to open.”

ServiceMax, in a default response pasted under a dozen negative reviews, said the complaints were “not the intended behaviour of our app” and offloaded blame to NBN Co.

“We are trying to work with the implementor at NBN to get this resolved,” the US app maker said.

“The best action you can take is voice your feedback direct to NBN.”

In a statement, an NBN Co spokesperson said it was “aware of some of the issues” technicians were having with the ServiceMax app.

“We have significantly improved the app over the last few weeks to address functionality, system performance and general user experience pain-points, and will continue to modify and enhance the app in the next two weeks,” they said.

“We appreciate technicians’ patience while we work to improve the app.”