ABC could have underpaid redundancy entitlements, union claims as it starts Fair Work Commission case

The union for journalists, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), is taking the ABC to the Fair Work Commission over concerns the public broadcaster underpaid staff owed redundancy entitlements.

The union confirmed to Mumbrella it has lodged a notice of dispute in the Commission about the voluntary redundancy payments, which the ABC calculated on a pro rata basis.

The broadcaster defended its redundancy calculations, however, issuing a statement which said: “The ABC’s method of calculating severance pay for employees who have periods of part-time service has been in place for over two decades, and is consistent with the SBS and public service entities.

“Under the relevant enterprise agreement, the maximum severance entitlement an employee can receive is 77 weeks’ pay for 24 years of service.”

According to MEAA, redundancies out of the ABC in response to a budget shortfall totalled 151 as of last month, of which 81 came from the news division and 55 are voluntary. But the ABC admitted there have been more than 200 redundancies since June, and reaffirmed that the figure of up to 250 redundancies remains accurate.

The organisation’s enterprise agreement allows for part time employees to only receive redundancy entitlements on a pro rata basis, the ABC said.

“The ABC recently (in late 2019) renegotiated its enterprise agreement with employees, the CPSU [Community and Public Sector Union] and the MEAA, with a key focus on the redundancy clause, and no issue was raised during that negotiation about the ABC’s methodology,” the statement continued.

“The ABC has applied this methodology in previous redundancy rounds and is confident that it is both fair and legally sound. The ABC does not intend to depart from the above position.”

Nine newspapers reported that, according to sources, the redundancy entitlement issue could mostly disadvantage women, an allegation the ABC addressed.

“In relation to the assertion about more senior women being made redundant, we have not received any individual complaints about age discrimination in this process,” it responded.

“We did see a higher proportion of more senior employees opt for redundancy, which is to be expected as their tenure will result in increased severance entitlements.

“We will continue to have discussions with the unions about any concerns around ageism in the redundancy process and if specific instances are raised we will of course look into that decision.”

The round of redundancies – which coincided with cuts that impacted services such as ABC Life and the 7:45am bulletin – has continued to attract headlines, including due to the exit of high-profile chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici.

In tweets that have since been deleted, Alberici took aim at the ABC and its director of news, Gaven Morris, saying she will no longer appear on TV because it’s “too painful to be in the public eye”.

She has since added: “My psychologist, who I have been seeing every day since the ABC made my position redundant, says I am suffering anxiety.”

The disagreement with the union over redundancy payments follows the ABC’s announcement in June that it would make a contrition payment of $600,000 for underpaying casual staff by almost $12m. Addressing the latest Fair Work Commission matter, the broadcaster reiterated its apology for the earlier underpayment and said it is continuing to work with the Fair Work Ombudsman to comply with a number of obligations contained in an enforceable undertaking.

The ABC realised it had underpaid almost 2,000 staff, and reported the issue to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which then investigated the matter. The organisation paid 5.25% interest on the back payments.


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