‘Sham contracting’, debt and distress overwhelm telco repair workers

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A workforce management company that holds contracts with Telstra, Foxtel and NBN co is being accused of exploiting young trainees overwhelmed by debt and distress.

In just seven years, Tandem Corporation has grown to become one of the country’s largest private firms, with an annual turnover of $600 million.

If you’ve recently had help fixing a problem with a home phone line, or installing Foxtel, there’s a strong chance you’ve had a visit from a Tandem subcontractor.

One such subcontractor was Michael Porter.

After years struggling with anxiety, depression and unemployment, Mr Porter joined a training program anticipating a steady job and a decent wage.

Instead, he encountered a black hole of labour subcontracting and was left $60,000 in debt before he had even started work.

His problems typify many of the issues faced by people on the dole in a welfare system where services such as training are increasingly provided by for-profit companies.

In 2013, Mr Porter started an apprenticeship to become a technician qualified to complete installations and repair faults on Telstra’s copper phone lines.

It was part of a Government program to find work for the long-term unemployed, and he had enrolled in the program at the recommendation of job centre Wise Employment.

Mr Porter was excited by the opportunity of work, but thought refusing the training could jeopardise his unemployment benefits.

“I felt like this was my last chance to make an effort in my life,” he told 7.30.

He said he was told the training would lead to work with ISGM — now known as Tandem.

But a few weeks later ISGM said that in order to get the work, Mr Porter would be employed as a subcontractor, and would need to establish a business in his own name, and buy a van and thousands of dollars worth of tools.

“Basically, I was told what had to be purchased,” he said.

“There was a list of required items — every item on that list had to be in my van, or else I wouldn’t be allowed to start work.”

The trainees were advised to buy a long list of equipment from ISGM’s preferred provider, Techpac.

Those who could not stump up approximately $60,000 to pay for the equipment were encouraged to borrow the money from Macquarie.

Mr Porter borrowed $43,000 for his vehicle and $20,000 for his tools. In his loan application to Macquarie, he disclosed that aside from personal effects and his wife’s car, he had just $40 to his name.

In the fine print, it emerged that Techpac got a commission for the loans from Macquarie.

These loans would…

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