Despite Chorus partner Visionstream subcontractors being in the gun over the Ultrafast Broadband (UFB) rollout, a union says the company is now adopting the same model for maintenance work on older copper lines.

E tū says job cuts affecting 11 technicians who service Chorus's copper network in Northland may be the start of sweeping changes to the way the network is maintained.

Visionstream, which is contracted by Chorus to run the Northland network, is set to replace the axed full-timers with "dependent sub-contractors, E tū says.

"That is the same model used to install Ultra Fast Broadband, and is closely linked to labour exploitation," E tū industry coordinator Joe Gallagher says.

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Chorus responds

Chorus spokesman Ian Bonnar told the Herald it was simply the case that, with the transition to fibre, "There are fewer jobs to do on copper. Hence Visionstream has laid off 11 techs who worked exclusively on copper. The rest is pure speculation."

According to stats released last month, there were 504,000 UFB customers connected at December 31, representing about 51 per cent of those within reach of the rollout.

A regulatory change that kicks in on January 1, 2020 will allow Chorus to axe copper service in areas where UFB fibre is available.

UFB subcontractors in the gun

Some 72 sub-contractors face charges related to labour abuses following an investigation run by the Labour Inspectorate and Immigration NZ - although Visionstream and Chorus are out of the cross-hairs thanks to their arm's-length contracts with the small contractors accused of underpaying and otherwise exploiting workers.

Gallagher says the union is also gravely concerned that the sub-contracting model used by Visionstream and favoured by Chorus is about to be rolled out across the whole copper network.

"When a company like Chorus decides to cut costs by using contractors like Visionstream, it means no job is safe. Visionstream appears to have no scruples about how its subbies are treated," he says.

Visionstream has been approached for comment.