ABC staff ignore government request to pause wage increase

Former Assistant Editor

ABC employees have voted against a freeze on wages, and will rely on a new enterprise agreement that sees a 2% pay increase take effect today (October 1).

The vote to enforce the agreement comes despite multiple requests from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher for staff to agree to pause the pay rise.

As SMH reports, ABC chair Ita Buttrose asked staff to vote on the decision earlier in September, with the freeze set to divert $5m towards emergency broadcasting.

The increase was approved by the Fair Work Commission in January, and an email sent to staff by ABC chief people officer Rebekah Donaldson confirmed the broadcaster’s employees had voted down the pay rise deferral.

The pay rise will now 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,” the email said.

“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.”

Sources tell SMH that 80% of staff voted against the freeze, after being urged to do so by their unions.

Minister Fletcher said the pay freeze would have been a gesture of solidarity with those across the media sector who have been doing it much tougher than the ABC.

“It is evident from the results of today’s vote that ABC staff did not share this view.”

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ben Morton, said the “result disrespects the public servants who have had the deferral of wage increases applied to them, as well as their colleagues in the broader media sector”.

The decision to vote no was praised by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), with acting director of media Adam Portelli congratulating staff.

“The management proposal for a six month pay freeze was the final insult,” he 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 month the MEAA lodged a notice of dispute in the Commission over voluntary redundancy payments by the ABC.

It said 81 of the ABC’s 200+ June redundancies were from the news division, and 55 were voluntary, but that several people were underpaid in the process.

The ABC also back-paid $12m to 1,900 current and former workers in June, entering into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman.


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