Desperate workers 'targeted' to take on NBN asbestos work

RESIDENTS desperately looking for work in Ballarat say they were targeted by a now-defunct sub-contactor responsible for clearing Telstra pits in readiness for the National Broadband Network. 

One former Davcom employee said he felt duped by the company, which allegedly forced him to handle asbestos without safety equipment and failed to pay his wages. 

The man, who didn’t want to be named, said he now lived an anxious existence, fearful that he may one day succumb to one of the many diseases associated with asbestos exposure.

“How can they get away with this ... it’s just not right,” he said.

Davcom was on Thursday found guilty of two WorkSafe charges and fined $20,000 in Ballarat Magistrates Court over its refusal to respond to WorkSafe requests for information regarding the handling of asbestos during the NBN roll-out around Ballarat last year. 

The former employee said Davcom had “clearly targeted vulnerable workers”, using them to complete work which they knew wasn’t by the book. 

“There were blokes who had just got out of prison working for them (Davcom) and they needed the work so bad that they didn’t ask questions,” the man said. 

“It was a shoddy operation, everything about it. I reckon they (Davcom) knew we were the type of blokes who wouldn’t say anything.” 

Thursday’s court appearance heard punctured bags full of asbestos had been dumped in a skip out the back of Davcom’s Delacombe work depot in June last year.

Davcom was sub-contracted to undertake remediation of Telstra ducts and pits in Ballarat by Visionstream Australia, which won a $90 million contract with Telstra in January last year to complete the works.

The former worker said employees were never given safety equipment when working with asbestos, including when they used crowbars and shovels to “break up” Telstra boxes, many of which were full of asbestos. 

“It (asbestos) was just thrown around at the end of the day like it was nothing,” the worker said. 

“It was terrible how they conducted themselves.”

Another worker said he too had never been paid and that it was common for workers to handle asbestos wearing shorts, T-shirts, boots and nothing else. 

“We didn’t have goggles, we didn’t have gloves, we didn’t have masks,” he said. 

WorkSafe said it was not investigating claims Davcom workers were subject to unsafe work practices.

All attempts to contact Davcom management failed.

patrick.byrne@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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