Pay protest: NBN contractor rips out new pipes



blog Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse for Australia’s delayed, trouble-plagued, asbestos-affected National Broadband Network project, they do. According to The Australian newspaper (we recommend you click here for the full, paywalled article), a sub-contractor for NBN construction firm Syntheo has taken a rather unusual step after Syntheo didn’t come through with his annointed pay packet. The newspaper reports:

“Barry Pringle, the director of Bench Excavation, last night ordered his crews to dig up pipes they laid six weeks ago in Adelaide’s southern suburbs for Syntheo.”

To my mind, this is simply extraordinary. Are things really that bad when it comes to the NBN’s sub-contractors, that they have to reverse work that they’ve already completed, in order to get the attention of the major NBN construction firms, when it comes to their pay? I mean, I’m in business myself, and I’ve seen plenty of invoices get paid late, extremely late, or not at all (in the publishing business we refer to this particular type as “aged”). But physical infrastructure is another thing. To go to such lengths as digging up the ground again to remove pipes for the NBN is an extreme step. One wonders how legitimate Pringle’s claims are; and to what extent such issues are widespread.

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. I would hope Pringle has read his contracts well because if he didn’t then not only will he not get paid he might now have to pay Syntho. I’m experience those suppliers who don’t get paid(in the case of bankruptcy) or get paid late are those who are lest than diligent in their paperwork, including having appropriate contracts for the work.

    • Actually the Australian reported he has now been paid by Syntheo. No mention of whether the pipes remain out or whether re installing.
      It did raise the point that Syntheo was offering $38/Metrt, Pringle tried to get it up to where he could be profitable at $55, Syntheo max $45 . pringle finished contracted job, lost money on it and refuses to do any more work and Syntheo wasn’t paying untill the publicity.

      Interesting, read a report , the NBN is paying the contractors $103/Meter (fair price). They pay the Subbies doing the work under $40-

  2. Renai, the story says the contractor decided he didn’t like how much he had agreed to be paid, and tried to change the deal. That’s very poor business and says more about the contractor than the NBN.

  3. Whatever it is, its a tricky downward slope into trade negations or court time if push comes to shove.

    I certainly wouldn’t be paying by the hour to have the same pipe installed twice in my place.
    But then again, it’s whatever is in the contract and signed by both parties.

    Mind you, I did see the same piece of concrete curbing poured at least 3 times during the Eastlink construction. Did they get paid 3 times for the hours worked?

  4. It seems to me the main contractors are really being dodgy.

    First they appear to have claimed greater things than they wee able to deliver. (No unusual)
    Now they appear to have caused enough issues to result in a sub contractor getting his knickers in a twist. In a way that hurts the customer the most.


  5. I have a feeling the contractor did this for some publicity. Anything NBN-related that’s negative is picked up pretty quickly by national newspapers.

    How this contractor thought he’d get paid though….

  6. Forgetting the idiotic move of ripping pipes out of the ground for a second, is this payment delay the fault of Syntheo in Adelaide? Or are there larger NBNCo administration problems causing delays with NBN Co sub-contractors and payment? I can’t get past Murdoch’s paywall (not that there’s probably much point) but I’d like to hear Syntheo’s and/or NBN Co’s side of the story.

    • Many items are free for the first day, or a few hours., save the item to read later or copy and paste so that you can reference the actual wording and he said she said. Some good free pdf printers around (PDF Forge – [Open Source] for one of many). I consider due the vitriolic and continuous attacks and the demonstrateable vested self interest, the Public Interest is the key factor

  7. How the guy thinks this will get him anything other than taken to court I have no idea.

    • Some people love confecting anger and will pay a high price to ensure their life can be devoted to it.

  8. Look at it this way, Karl, if Syntheo/NBNCo don’t deal with this issue one way or another, there’ll be nothing stopping other subbies dealing with disputes in the same way.

  9. Look at it this way, Karl, if Syntheo or theNBNCo don’t deal with this issue one way or another, there’ll be nothing stopping other subbies dealing with disputes in the same way.

  10. Well according to the Australian they did pay him eventually so i guess the tactic worked….

  11. That the removal was undertaken either before dawn or after dark makes me somewhat suspicious of the motives. I suspect that he would have been paying penalty rates at those times.
    And the fact that there just happened to be a photographer from the Murdoch press to take a snap makes me even more so.

    My money is on a beat up/publicity stunt coordinated by interests who wish to cast the NBN in the worst light possible.

  12. Depending on the contract terms, Syntheo could potentially sue for destruction of property.

  13. The contractor’s behaviour was completely unprofessional and I very much doubt he will be hired again if he’s willing to go to such extreme tactics over a pending invoice.

  14. The stories on the NBN are getting more and more bizarre.

    It seems that If you want to get a headline, all you need to do is to include the word NBN.

  15. Destruction of public property is generally a criminal offence, isn’t it?

    And he’d spend almost as much time/money ripping it up as he would have laying it down, so he doesn’t seem to be very bright business wise either…

  16. How do they expect to win any jobs in the future acting like this?
    I’ve driven through Union picket line fences but this just takes the cake.

  17. Fairly dumb idea. Presumably he only gets paid upon the handover of the agreed deliverable; now there is no deliverable because he ripped it out.

    Still wouldn’t get paid.

  18. The work was done after-hours (starting around 5:30pm).

    There has been no more construction in this area (5SFD-01) in the weeks since this happened – although different subbies are continuing on in neighbouring roll-out zones.

    There’s someone in the relevant whirlpool thread who I think lives where it happened. This subbie was only there for the pipe-laying contract. When he pulled up the conduit it apparently had already been run so up came the fibre too.

    2 days after, there were NBN ‘techs’ checking all the new pits along the main road off of which this had happened. They weren’t ‘doing’ anything and it looked like an inspection… Pure speculation on my part but it looked very much like a spot check to see if there was damage down the line (i.e. no checklists being ticked off or tools going down, just two blokes off-handedly checking things).

  19. Lol. Credit control in the extreme here. I admire the guts to rip it up again. Gotta get the attention of the accounts department and show ’em you’re serious.

    Personally, I find it helpful to open a trading account for a customer, wait for a violation, investigate it, put them on Cash terms, and then see if there is a case to re-establish the account. Meanwhile, our biggest customer is still on cash terms after 5 years because there is a weak case to reestablish an account.

    My take: there is no point having a “customer” who doesn’t pay (on time). I’m quite happy for my competitors to have all the customers who pay late or not at all.

    • Cash terms, my god I hate them :)

      But if they ain’t paying then I agree with your statement; give em to the competition :)

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