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The ABC chair, Ita Buttrose, has asked the national broadcaster’s staff to vote on a six-month wage freeze three months after the government told the ABC it should fall in line with other taxpayer-funded agencies during the Covid-19 crisis.
Under the ABC Act, the board has to consider requests from government, but equally management cannot direct staff to accept a pay freeze without varying its enterprise agreement.
“The board has been considering this request for some months and has explored many options,” Buttrose told staff on Friday. “We held further deliberations this week and have decided to ask eligible ABC staff to vote on whether they will accept the deferral of the scheduled 2% pay rise from 1 October 2020 to 1 April 2021.”
“The decision is yours. While this deferral will deliver a one-off savings benefit in FY21 of $5m, it will not assist the ABC to achieve the ongoing savings requirement of $41m per annum by FY22.”
If the staff voted in favour of the move, the $5m saving would not go back to government but would be diverted to emergency broadcasting services and public interest journalism.
Union sources said a yes vote was highly unlikely as staff “were suffering already” and had just seen 250 colleagues walk out the door. Staff at the broadcaster are represented by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Community and Public Sector Union.
“Bushfires, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing impact of budget cuts and subsequent redundancies have been extremely challenging, and the board recognises the considerable efforts and sacrifices of everyone who works at the ABC and thanks you all for your extraordinary professionalism and dedication,” Buttrose said.
In May the Morrison government put the ABC on notice after deciding in early April to defer general wage increases for commonwealth public servants for six months.
Buttrose said the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, asked the board to “investigate all options to pause wages in line with other government agencies”.
“The minister asked us to consider the current situation across the media industry and the challenges other media organisations face, along with the Australian community, due to the exceptional economic consequences caused by Covid-19,” Buttrose said.
The chief executive of the MEAA, Paul Murphy, said in June the intervention by the communications minister turned this “into an issue of ABC independence” and pay outcomes at the national broadcaster were “none of the government’s business”.
The ABC managing director, David Anderson, deferred bonuses to senior executives, declined a salary increase and offered a 5% reduction in his pay for a period of time. The ABC board also took a 10% pay cut for six months.
“The board recognises that we are living in extraordinary times and facing extraordinary challenges,” Buttrose said. “No one knows when the pandemic will have run its course. But the board also acknowledges the dreadful economic turmoil that Covid-19 has inflicted on us and the way we live, and its horrific impact on Australia’s economy.
“With our nation facing extremely challenging conditions, it seems reasonable that we play our part and for Australia’s national broadcaster to make an important contribution to our nation’s wellbeing.”
Staff will vote at the end of the month.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Ita Buttrose asks ABC staff to vote on six-month wage freeze | Australian Broadcasting Corporation