Hundreds of NBN Co staff on $200,000 and above a year were paid an average bonus of almost $50,000 last year, according to new data.
Earlier this year – while everyone was talking about the $20,000 worth of Cartier watches purchased for Australia Post executives as bonuses – it was revealed staff and executives at the government-owned business enterprise NBN Co were paid $77.5m in cash bonuses in 2020.
A new breakdown of the short-term incentive payments provided to Labor in response to questions on notice in Senate estimates this week revealed the $77.5m in bonuses were paid to 3,819 employees, with almost half of the bonuses ($37.6m) going to 2,865 employees in the $100,000 to $200,000 salary bracket – an average of just over $13,000 per employee.
The average amount paid to staff on a salary of more than $200,000 increases significantly – $49,743 on average across five salary bands. For those on more than $600,000, the average bonus was $440,988.
The 179 staff on less than $100,000 a year received an average bonus of $7,500, while it appears a good proportion of NBN Co’s lowest-paid employees received no bonus at all. Guardian Australia understands Labor intends to pursue NBN Co on this during its next estimates appearance on Thursday morning.
A Guardian Australia analysis has previously found NBN Co executives are paid higher than almost any other government business or department head, with the chief executive, Stephen Rue, paid more than five times as much as the prime minister, Scott Morrison, at $3.1m.
NBN Co has previously defended the bonuses paid to staff as for “selected roles at NBN Co [that] are only awarded if certain targets are met at the end of the performance period and subject to board approval”.
The payments were handed out during the pandemic year of 2020 “based on the recognition that the company exceeded the majority of its corporate targets”.
At the time the story was first reported, the minister for communications, Paul Fletcher, said he had reminded the NBN Co board that the government wanted to see constraints on salary increases and bonuses. A Guardian Australia freedom of information request seeking evidence of this reminder was refused by NBN Co on the basis there was no record of any communication, however the department told the Senate this week it was limited to a phone conversation.
The NBN chair Dr Ziggy Switkowski told Senate estimates in March that the Covid-19 pandemic put the NBN to the stress test, and therefore the bonuses were justified.
“Building a network that is then tested as the Covid environment did, in terms of the stresses on the network and the dependence that the community quickly developed on having reliable access to a ubiquitous network, was unusual,” he said. “In many ways it was a kind of real-time stress test of a network just as the build was completed.
“That was an extraordinary outcome, and to this day it’s an extraordinary situation, where the NBN facilities and network have continued to deliver to expectations.”
Labor’s shadow communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said the NBN was not delivering, despite the bonuses.
“How can anyone justify these excessive bonuses? Paul Fletcher needs to reign in this corporate largesse – and quickly.”