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Gigabit workers suspended - has your superfast broadband been installed yet?

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OVER a fifth of workers on the Gigabit fibre-optic cabling project have been suspended or are under investigation, according to JT's group director of human resources.

Richard Summerfield confirmed on Thursday that 14 workers of the 97 employed by JT subsidiary Gigabit Field Force had been suspended since the start of the year and that seven more individuals had been singled out, pending further information.

Mr Summerfield also confirmed that job advertisements for fibre engineers were currently being circulated in the UK.

'Our objective is to complete the project as soon as possible and we need a back-up plan,' he said. 'We have advertised in the UK to try to get a pipeline of candidates, if we need them, solely so that the project would not stop delivering.

'No one has been taken on from the UK yet and we are trying to fill roles locally,' he added.

JT's response follows questions asked in the States on Tuesday about the long-running dispute between workers employed by Gigabit Field Force to work on the project, which is being managed by global firm CH2M Hill. In the past workers have complained about zero-hours contracts, underpayment for hours worked and conditions of employment.

Mr Summerfield said that the recent suspensions followed allegations by CH2M Hill of time-sheet fraud, sabotaging of installations and violence towards other members of staff.

He said it was 'categorically not the case' that members of Unite the union or workers raising legitimate concerns had been picked out for suspension and that there was no reason why suspended members of staff could not work elsewhere while they were waiting for a decision.

But employee Daniel Tucker, who has been suspended since 16 January, said that he believed it was almost impossible to apply for other jobs.

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'By law, I have to tell an employer that I've been suspended, but the sheet of paper I have says that I'm not allowed to tell anyone why I have been suspended, so that makes me unemployable,' said Mr Tucker.

'I'm quite a proud man and I don't see why taxpayers should have to fork out on Income Support for me and my family when I am fit to go back to work. Yesterday I did some work for charity, just to keep myself busy.'

Mr Tucker (34) said that he had been disgusted when he saw the job advertisement on the internet, which is offering ferry expenses to and from Jersey, accommodation and mileage expenses and food allowance of £20 a day.

'I've worked all my life since I left school. This is my first engineering job and I enjoy the work,' he said. 'But I'm tired of the engineers getting all the blame.'

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Unite spokesman Nick Corbel said: 'It is shameful that a company such as JT, which is States-owned, adopted these working practices when they were setting up Gigabit Field Force.

'Unite feels that these suspensions have occurred as a consequence of workers raising legitimate concerns, such as withholding of wages and zero-hours contracts. That they are now recruiting from the UK is a disgrace,' Mr Corbel added.

  • In January, the JEP reported that the project to install superfast broadband across the Island was facing delays after the States asked for a multi-million-pound dividend payment.
  • JT had hoped to have all homes connected to the network by the end of 2016. However, that time frame had to be pushed back following the States decision to ask for the £6 million dividend payment from the company, which JT says has meant funds for the project have had to be diverted.
  • At the time it was reported that around 11,000 homes had already been connected to the fibre-optic network, with another 23,000 still to be connected.
  • Graeme Millar, chief executive of JT, said at that time that no new timescale had been put in place but confirmed that the project was facing delays as a result of the dividend payment.

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