ABC employees vote against pay rise freeze requested by government

The ABC’s workforce has voted to enforce their enterprise agreement and insist on a 2% pay rise the government had asked them to defer for six months.

The increase was approved by the Fair Work Commission last January, but Communications Minister Paul Fletcher wrote to the ABC in May, expecting the pay rise, which takes effect tomorrow, to be frozen, despite it being signed off on by the Commission and accounted for in this year’s budget.

The staff ballot to vote on whether the freeze would go ahead opened last Monday, 21 September, and closed on Friday. In an email to staff, seen by Mumbrella, the ABC’s chief people officer Rebekah Donaldson confirmed staff had voted against the pay rise deferral, and the raise would be included in the next pay cycle.

“As the ABC Chair Ita Buttrose communicated to you on 11 September, the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and the Australian Public Service Commissioner (APSC) Peter Woolcott asked the ABC to consider deferring the pay rise in line with all non-APS Agencies,” Donaldson wrote.

“However, the ABC Act guarantees the independence of the Corporation and sole responsibility for setting the pay and conditions for staff rests with the ABC Board. The Act also requires the Board to consider advice on Government policy when it is requested to do so.

“We respect your decision on this matter and appreciate your professionalism throughout this process.”

The union for journalists, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), maintained throughout the process that the request from the government, “disappointing[ly]” supported by ABC management, was unfair in the context of the national broadcaster’s bushfire and COVID-19 coverage, and the hundreds of redundancies the organisation has already faced.

By applying pressure to the ABC in such a way, the government was turning pay “into an issue of ABC independence,” according to the union.

In response to the workforce’s ‘no’ vote, acting director of MEAA Media, Adam Portelli, congratulated ABC staff for “overwhelmingly” voting to ensure “their enterprise agreement, negotiated in good faith less than a year ago, be honoured”.

Managing director David Anderson with ABC chair Ita Buttrose

“The management proposal for a six month pay freeze was the final insult [following the recent round of redundancies],” Portelli said.

“But we should not forget that this proposal originated from the federal Communications Minister and was a direct challenge to the independence from political interference of the ABC.

“If the pay freeze had gone ahead, it would have generated negligible cost savings but further damaged staff morale at the ABC. In addition. the increase has been accounted for in this year’s ABC budget.

Last year, union members at the ABC pushed for a better enterprise agreement, which ultimately included the 2% pay rise, no loss of conditions, and better access to voluntary redundancy. Those voluntary redundancy clauses were triggered during the recent redundancy process, in which staff were able to voluntarily nominate for a redundancy through an expression of interest process.

Earlier this month, MEAA confirmed it was taking the ABC to the Fair Work Commission over the alleged underpayment of redundancy entitlements.

The widespread redundancies were announced in June as part of the public broadcaster’s Five-Year Plan, which also involved the axing of the ABC Life brand and 7:45am radio news bulletin to meet a $41m budget shortfall.


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