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Chorus and partners underestimated migrant worker risk in UFB rollout

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Chorus trials 10Gbps broadband
Chorus gigabit broadband customers in Auckland and Wellington can apply to be among the first to trial a new 10Gbps-speed service.

While the subcontracting model used for New Zealand’s Ultra-Fast Broadband (UFB) network was appropriate to meet the uptick of fibre deployment, as was the use of migrant workers. A review has found that Chorus, Visionstream, and UCG did not manage well or understand how this model became vulnerable to such a risk.

“There is evidence that the ‘UFB Connect’ part of the UFB work programme is where the model is exposed to breaches of labour standards and migrant exploitation,” the review by MartinJenkins said.

“These problems relate to services delivered by two of the service companies, Visionstream and UCG, through a range of subcontracted delivery partners.”

In October, the Labour Inspectorate arm of Employment New Zealand announced it had completed 75 visits alongside Immigration New Zealand and Inland Revenue in June of 2018 and identified 73 subcontractors in Auckland in breach of minimum employment standards.

The MartinJenkins report said that number represented one in five subcontracting companies involved in UFB Connect, and after further work by Chorus, VisionStream, and UCG, that number was closer to one in three, with 109 companies being examined in total.

“This was sufficient for us to form a view that there was potentially a systemic issue that needed to be addressed,” the report said.

The report said Chorus relied too heavily on its Australian service companies, Visionstream and UCG, to manage worker risk and the contracts only forced to pair to meet legal minimums.

“Within the past two years, both Visionstream’s and UCG’s workforce have rapidly grown, predominantly through an increased use of Indian and Filipino workers,” the report stated.

“Despite this growth, Visionstream’s and UCG’s practices were not sophisticated enough to protect workers in their contracted supply chain from exploitation.

“Adequate protection would have included addressing migrant workers’ fear that complaining about labour standards could threaten their right to work in New Zealand.”

In response to the review, Chorus said it and its partners would “step up” to identify and mitigate risks.

“We underestimated that risk as it emerged, instead focusing on productivity, health and safety and quality. When issues arose we relied too heavily on the assurances given, which are not appropriate checks in a situation where there are a large numbers of migrants,” Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie said.

The company said it would: Require its service companies to appoint people, independent of delivery teams, to ensure subcontractors comply with labour laws; review what companies are paid for task completion and the process used when a job is substandard; require Visionstream and UCG to enforce minimum business standards for subcontractors, as well as provide support services to them; start an on-boarding program for migrant workers; require statutory declarations of compliance from all subcontractors; and establish an ongoing audit program.

Chorus further said it would commit to publishing and regularly reinforcing worker rights and welfare, create a portal to help workers understand their rights, help to transfer visas of workers if required, and establish a trust find to certain workers who cannot secure payment from their employer.

“While the report finds the vast majority of employment law breaches were low level, the way the supply chain is set up means it could still be vulnerable and this will be fixed,” Chorus chair Patrick Strange said.

Chorus said of the 109 companies identified between itself, the Labor Inspectorate, Visionstream, and UCG, 22 were blacklisted, suspended, had contracts terminated, or voluntary stopped working on UFB Connect; 41 were in a “remediation process”; 17 were being audited by the service companies; and 30 were found to be compliant.

“The investigations found that contracting employers were failing to maintain employment records, pay employees’ minimum wage, holiday entitlements, and provide employment agreements,” Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said in October.

“This is simply not acceptable and it is not welcome in New Zealand workplaces.”

Visionstream took on UFB work in October 2016 and gained installation work for 80% of the network, with the remaining 20% given to Broadspectrum and multi-dwelling unit expert UCG to be installed.

Meanwhile, New Zealand retailer Spark disclosed it had been fined NZ$675,000 for historical billing issues related to “incorrect implementation of a ‘welcome credit’ when joining Spark for some fibre broadband customers during 2016” and “a billing implementation issue relating to a 30-day notice period when customers left Spark”.

Court proceedings were brought on by the New Zealand Commerce Commission, with Speak pleading guilty to breaches to the Fair Trading Act.

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Ram unveils limited 1500 TRX Ignition Edition, Longhorn SouthFork, and 1500 (RED) Edition

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The 2022 Ram 1500 TRX is getting a trio of limited-edition models with custom features and unique exterior appointments. The 1500 TRX Ignition Edition, 1500 Longhorn SouthFork, and 1500 Ram (RED) Edition recently made their first appearances at the State Fair of Texas. The latter is particularly worth mentioning as Jeep, Fiat, and Ram cemented with U2 frontman Bono’s (RED) organization to fight global health crises.

“Ram customers demand even more, and our new models deliver that with a selection of exterior and interior appointments and content for greater personalization,” said Mike Koval Jr., Ram Brand Chief Executive Officer – Stellantis.

The 2022 Ram 1500 TRX Ignition has the TRX Level 2 Equipment Group. The package includes custom Ignition paint and body graphics, a panoramic sunroof, a spray-in bed liner, a bed step, cargo tie-downs, a cab-mounted LED brake light, and bespoke 18-inch machine face black wheels. Under the hood is the same 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 motor pumping out 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque.

Other goodies include orange interior stitching, embroidered TRX logos on the seatbacks, copper carbon fiber trimmings, a heads-up display, and an orange center console badge. The Ram TRX Ignition starts at $91,585 (plus $1,695 destination), and only 875 units will arrive at US dealerships near the end of 2021.

Meanwhile, the 2022 Ram 1500 Longhorn SouthFork is all about luxury. It replaces the Limited Longhorn 10th Anniversary model and has an impressive lineup of standard kits like a multi-function tailgate, metal pedals, a deployable bed step, LED bed lighting, a spray-in bed liner, and a cargo divider.

It also has a Mountain Brown interior, bucket seats, suede door bolsters, and leather interior trim. The Ram 1500 Longhorn SouthFork starts at $61,620 (plus $1,695 destination) and arrives at dealerships later this year.“Buyers demand a good-looking truck with easy-to-use features. They tell us their Ram trucks are an extension of their personality, and they want to stand out from the crowd,” added Koval.

Finally, the 2022 Ram 1500 (RAM) RED Edition is available in a crew cab body style and starts at $63,250 (plus $1,695 destination). The (RAM) RED model has red RAM letters on the front grille and a (RED) badge on the center console lid. Engine choices include a 5.7-liter V8 with 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque or Ram’s 3.0-liter turbocharged EcoDiesel V6 with 260 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque.

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2022 Honda Passport arrives with a fresh face and new rugged TrailSport trim

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Honda is fortifying its SUV lineup with the redesigned 2022 Passport five-seat crossover. The new Passport comes with an outdoorsy TrailSport trim with chunkier bumpers, a wider track, and 18-inch wheels with chunky tires. Standard across the board is a more rugged façade (derived from the Honda Ridgeline) and a mild splattering of technology updates.

Honda has yet to show the standard 2022 Passport, so let’s focus on the off-road-ready TrailSport version. “Some may not realize the true rugged, off-road capabilities of our light trucks,” said Dave Gardner, executive vice president of National Operations, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “Now they’re getting tough, rugged looks to match, and the addition of TrailSport will further enhance the off-road capability of our vehicles in the future.”

The 2022 Honda Passport TrailSport has chunkier front and rear bumpers, a unique grille, and silver skid plates. It also has special Orange TrailSport badges on the grille and tailgate. In addition, TrailSport has a 10 millimeter wider front and rear track for a burlier stance and better stability. It also offers more room to accommodate all-new machine-finished 18-inch wheels wrapped in TrailSport-specific off-road tires.

Under the hood remains a 3.5-liter V6 engine with 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Power goes to a nine-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. However, standard in Passport TrailSport and Elite is Honda’s i-VTM4 torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. The drivetrain can automatically send up to 70-percent of engine torque to the rear wheels in rugged terrain. It can also send 100-percent of that torque to either the left or right rear wheels to keep you going.

All AWD Passport models have 8.1-inches of ground clearance and can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped. All trims also get 50.5 cubic feet of cargo space and a power tailgate. Passport also has under-floor storage compartments in the back to keep wet clothes and dirty boots from mingling with your precious cargo.

Meanwhile, every 2022 Honda Passport has standard Honda Sensing. The package includes a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. Additional standard safety equipment includes LED headlights, smart entry with push-button start, a rear-seat reminder, and a rear seatbelt reminder.

Inside, the 2022 Honda Passport gets an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Furthermore, the EX-L trim has perforated leather seats and contrasting stitching, while Passport TrailSport has amber interior ambient lighting, rubber floor mats, orange stitching. Pricing remains forthcoming, but the new Passport arrives at dealerships this winter.

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Aura EV Concept is a collaboration of brilliant British minds

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The Aura EV Concept is a long-range, all-electric speedster boasting 400 to 500 miles of driving range. It may not have the supercar-styling of a Bugatti Chiron or McLaren Elva. Still, the Aura EV is more about substance than style and results from a collaboration between four British companies: BAMD Composites, Conjure, Astheimer, and Potenza Technologies.

The four companies also got help from the UK Office for Zero-Emission Vehicles, with a common goal of creating the first homegrown long-range British EV. And when it comes to electric vehicles, aerodynamics is critical in squeezing out every ounce of driving range from the batteries, and the brainiacs behind Aura EV know this all too well.

But the future of Britain’s EV industry should not only have a more extended range. It needs to be sustainable as well, reducing every ounce of carbon footprints along the way. Aura EV has a lightweight composite body derived from natural fibers. In addition, its svelte yet minimalist silhouette is the result of computational fluid dynamics to make it as slippery as a fish in the water. And if those covered rear wheels are any indication, Aura EV can slice the wind almost effortlessly.

Unfortunately, some details are pretty scarce, but we were lucky to receive more information about Aura EV. According to sources, the car has two 44 kWh battery packs. One of them is on the floor, while there’s also a battery pack under the hood, enough to propel Aura EV to 400 miles (643 km) on a single full charge. If you came here looking for numbers, we’re sorry to disappoint. We’re expecting performance to be peppy for your weekend excursions, but don’t expect it to outrun a Rimac Nevera or Lotus Evija.

One of the central premises behind Aura EV is to reduce people’s perceptions of range anxiety, enabling buyers to adopt the EV lifestyle without further hesitations. Other quirks include a custom steering wheel with a self-positioning screen and a hi-tech human-machine interface with 3D visualization. Meanwhile, Aura EV’s Android-sourced battery and charging software can monitor the state of charge within 0.5-percent for superior accuracy, ensuring drivers will never unexpectedly run out of juice or wait unnecessarily at a charging station.

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