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CWU officials have called on NBN Co to explain its reported decision to award design contracts to offshore companies.

In a report yet to be confirmed, the Australian Financial Review (3 March) claimed that NZ-owned Kordia and Indian multinational Tata had both won NBN design contracts. This has raised concerns that the actual design work may be performed overseas.

In December last year, NBN Co chose Telstra to be its prime contractor for the design of the Fibre to the Node sections (FTTN) of its Multi Technology Mix network. The CWU welcomed this decision as a step towards allowing a greater participation of the Telstra workforce in the roll-out of the network and a stronger focus on local skills in the project.

During earlier phases of the NBN build, network design work was offshored by several of NBN Co’s principal contractors, including Silcar and Ericsson. Anecdotal evidence suggests that local design companies sub-contracting to the prime contractors also offshored much of this work.

The results in many cases were designs that were unworkable because they bore little relation to the actual sites for which they were intended. 

The CWU considers that this experience, which involved significant waste of public money, must not be repeated.

The extent and nature of the work reportedly being given to Kordia and Tata – and where it is likely to be performed -are not yet clear.

Kordia has in fact a well-established local presence. It has been involved in designing parts of the Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) sections of the NBN since 2010 when it formed a partnership with Downer EDI to design the largely aerial local components of the NBN in Townsville, the Queensland first release site.

It subsequently continued in partnership with Downer to roll-out sections of the NBN in northern NSW, involving design of both underground and aerial components.

Industry sources have suggested that Kordia will source designers locally.

How Tata intends to undertake its section of the project is less clear.

Communications Divisional President, Len Cooper, called on both companies, and NBN Co, to commit to employing and, where necessary, training local workers on the project.

“We have always seen the NBN as an opportunity to rebuild a skilled technical workforce in Australia,” he said, “after many years of underinvestment in telecommunications training by the industry.”

“Obviously that opportunity will be put at risk if work like NBN design is sent offshore.”

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