A big debate has broken out about the effectiveness of the journalists’ union, the MEAA, after a new pay deal was reached with Rupert’s News Ltd hacks.

Crikey has recently contained much comment about Chris Warren and the deal he cut with News.

The MEAA’s Chris Warren is a long standing friend of Kris Neill, head of corporate affairs at News. They were activists together in the NSW Young Labour Left over two decades ago. (Since then, Neill, a journalist by training, has moved onto bigger and better things, including head of Bob Carr’s office before taking the job at News.)

Of course, I’m not suggesting Chirs Warren sold out his members because of this ….

Name withheld

This issue first came across the Crikey screen when a News Ltd journalist sent this piece through which we distributed in our August 9 sealed section:

Rupert screws the hacks’ union

A News Ltd hack writes:

“Bizarre happenings in the tail end of EBA negotiations between the MEAA and News Ltd.

In mid-June News Ltd made a “final offer” of 3% pa for 3 years; the Victorian house committee sent negotiators back saying they would settle for nothing less than 4% because of slippage against CPI since the last agreement, which took effect in July 1999.

In late July MEAA negotiator and federal secretary Christopher Warren suddenly proposed to News Ltd (without having previously sought members’ support for this) that the union might like a 3 year 6 month term. News responded by re-stating their offer as 3 years at 3%, but offering an additional 8 months at a face-slapping 2.5% … but, in an extraordinary move, said the offer was on the table only if the MEAA endorsed it to its members. In an even more extraordinary move, the union bowed to this blackmail.

A national conference call of house committees glumly accepted this by a majority vote.

The first announcement of this cosy deal was a News Ltd memo on July 31 announcing to MEAA members that their union had agreed to recommend the acceptance of the offer. The memo was written as if it was all a done deal. Hours later the MEAA followed up with a memo of its own, but failed to disclose — and, to date, has still failed to disclose at meetings around the country — that its endorsement of this offer was a condition of News Ltd making it in the first place.

Worst of all, the MEAA has used spurious and meaningless claims that the final 2.5% pay rise — which won’t take effect until July 2005, for God’s sake, and locks members into a deal through to Feb 2006 — equals “an annual increase of 3.75%”.

Oh no it doesn’t.

They produce this figure by “annualising” the 8-month, 2.5% figure, which is bullsh*t.

They also claim the rises over the term of the agreement equate to 3.14% annually, and therefore is an improvement on News’ previous 3 x 3% offer.

Rubbish!

At no time will a single pay rise be more than 3%. In the final eight-month nailed-on section of the agreement, members’ pay packets will rise by nothing more than 2.5%.

Naturally the company wants to buy itself industrial peace for the next four years, but …

Why is the union so happy to gamble on CPI movements almost four years into the future?

Why is the union distorting these measly figures to make the News Ltd offer seem more attractive?

Why is the union not disclosing that News Ltd twisted its arm to endorse the offer?

Why is it no surprise that most branches — apart from Victoria have accepted the offer?

Yours etc, Anonymous”

CRIKEY: Now this one seems very odd. Has our insider got this right? If there are any MEAA insiders/News hacks who can confirm or deny, we’d love to hear from you.

Chris Warren and the MEAA – opinion split

From the second sealed section on August 9

A union watcher writes:

“The MEAA stuff is pretty much right. Spoke to people from the HWT who are fuming that Chris Warren has again rolled over and had his tummy scratched by his mates at News Ltd Sydney. Apparently he got mauled at the HWT meeting and was quite offended that people weren’t showering him with rose petals for his great efforts in selling them down the river. If you were a News Ltd hack you would take your measly rise that the great warrior chief has sweated bricks and banged heads to win and go down the betting shop and take whatever odds you like that the pay packet of that great man of the people Chris Warren will be rising by way more than the puny 3 per cent he has delivered the people who pay him to actually do something.

Sole subscriber and former hack who is still waiting to see Warren chalk up a win. Against any employer. Anywhere.”

THE OFFICIAL MEAA RESPONSE

Now, here is a response on behalf of those who were involved in the process and reflects the collective views of the House Committee representatives in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney as well as Chris Warren and assistant federal secretary Mark Ryan.

“The Crikey report on the outcome of the collective agreement talks between the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and News Ltd both ignores key facts and misrepresents the process.

The report ignores what the negotiated outcome delivered:

* real pay rises over the lifetime of the agreement;

* substantial improvements for the almost 20 per cent of staff who are casuals, particularly the right for regular casuals to transfer to permanent employment;

* improvements in work-family life balance, including the extension of paid maternity leave to casuals, and extension of carer’s leave

* No real trade offs

All without industrial action. Hardly an outcome that justifies your headline: “Rupert screws hacks union”.

The report attempts to conceal these real wins behind a critique of the process. At the risk of boring your reader[s], here are the facts

First, the rejection of the company’s mid-June “final” offer was not made by the Victorian house committee as your correspondent claims, but by a unanimous decision of stopwork meetings of members around Australia on the unanimous recommendation of all House Committees and negotiators.

Second, the negotiators — as would be expected — floated a range of options in talks in an attempt to persuade the company to improve its offer.

Third, as soon as it become evident in talks on 16 July that the company was interested in a longer agreement in exchange for a higher pay rise, the union immediately adjourned the talks to enable the negotiators to talk among themselves. It was agreed by all the negotiators then present — including representatives of the house committees — that the federal secretary Christopher Warren should put the proposition that the agreement be extended by six months in exchange for an additional rise of 3 per cent on July 1 of that final year.

Fourth, it is not at all uncommon for employers, including News Ltd, to make an offer conditional on it being recommended by negotiators. Equally, the negotiators made it plain to News Ltd that, despite News’ wishes, they would not recommend any offer that they did not believe was in the best interests of members affected.

Fifth, at the phone hook-ups of house committee representatives on July 26 and July 30 to consider the company’s revised offer, the senior officials of the union made it plain to everyone on the hook-up that they would not recommend the offer simply to get it before members, but would only recommend it on the basis that they believed it was an appropriate outcome having regard to all the circumstances.

Sixth, the hook-up of house committee representatives from all News Ltd sites — Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Hobart — agreed to recommend the offer on its merits. Only the Hobart house committee dissented.

Seventh, your correspondent seems to fail to understand that it is mathematically wrong to add up percentage increases to get a final outcome. The wage increases provided by the agreement will see wages rise by 12 per cent over three years and eight months. This is ahead of the current and most commonly forecast rates of inflation.

Chris Warren, Mark Ryan and several house committee chairs

CRIKEY: We haven’t reached a view one way or the other on this yet but former HWT boss Steve Harris successfully broke the union 5 years ago when he scooped up more than 100 hacks on non-strike contracts. Keith Moor used to joke in management meetings that they would have to run a roster for all the strike breakers next time the unionists walked out. I suspect it is for this reason that Chris Warren is reluctant to pull on a strike. It would show how weak the union is in Melbourne now. Obviously the hackles are raised in some quarters by this latest deal so send in your thoughts folks and we’ll give everyone a run.

Chris Warren did a good deal in a tough market

Stephen,

Chris’ members ought to get real!

They should be amazed that they are getting any pay increase at all! I mean a pay increase in the biggest advertising revenue slump in ten years.

The one thing they can be sure of is that the number of jobs lost will match the percentage increases in the current climate.

Rupert cannot pass on the increase to advertisers at the moment so expect plenty of redundancies at HWT.

Problem is that the whingers won’t be the same as those that lose their jobs.

In the years to come Warren’s tenure will be seen as the golden years of journalists pay increases.

Ex Media Executive

MEAA goes missing when it comes to fighting the Packers

While I can’t comment MEAA / News Ltd machinations, I can tell you that the MEAA is utterly ineffective when it comes to standing up for or representing journo’s dudded by publishers.

When the ACP award was being renegotiated a couple of years ago I attended a ‘stop work’, otherwise known as a lunch break, where we were told about what had been offered by ACP. The meeting was in the Globe. Our trusty MEAA negotiator told us that ACP had offered some paltry sum, the trade off of which was that the ‘new technology’ or ‘ventura’ allowance (given to subs and above who were using Quark) would be ‘grandfathered out’. This was rejected out of hand. Of course, the meeting was attended by management spies who duly noted the opinions of those present and their views.

This allowance was part of the award, paid at least $50 per fortnight per hack, and ACP had been dudding stacks of journos out of it for as long as many had been there. For many people, the allowance arrears added up to way more than any pay rise, and it would have had to have been paid back as a tidy lump sum. Legally it was cut and dry.

Then there was a mysterious vote that few very few members seemed to be aware of and as per usual the announcement came via ACP HR dpt. Somehow all of ACP’s liability for this allowance had been waived for the new EBA. Talk about bending over and copping it. Not only that they also wrote more junior journos out of the award and reclassified them as admin staff – something also not agreed to by the stop work. You sub, you use Quark, you write and rewrite copy but sorry, because you’re on the first or second rung of the ladder, you ain’t no journalist. Amazing stuff.

Ironically, I tried to give the union guy cash on the spot for membership that day (as I have no credit card or cheque book), but hey, there was no way he could either sign up collect on the spot. Take the money and send me the receipt I said: “no way, gotta get down to Redfern in person during business” hours blah blah blah. We’ll send you the forms. They never did. They clearly didn’t want any new members. When the cutbacks came I had to negotiate my own ‘release’ settlement as ACP tried the highly unoriginal move of ‘constructive dismissal’.

When I went to ACP HR to tell them it just wasn’t on, the first thing told me that they knew the union wouldn’t support me and there was a tacit agreement with the MEAA and no matter what I did, it wouldn’t change a thing. This weakness was actually exploited by ACP as an attempt to evade their obligations. The union never even returned my calls. ACP changed their tune and coughed up pretty quickly and generously when they ‘found out’ I was getting advice from an IR lawyer. Thanks for nothing MEAA.

Chris Warren and his cronies can go to hell. Better still, he can get the sack. In it’s present state, the MEAA only serves itself, and by default or design, media proprietors all to well aware of it’s dismal state of affairs. There are real people out there getting badly screwed and all Warren can do is name drop like an old copy of NW.

Journos should break off from the MEAA and get themselves a real union, one that at least can challenge issues like constructive dismisal even if they pay rises temporarily go on hold.

Name withheld

Herald Sun hacks still steaming over pay deals

Dear Crikey,

Having read the MEAA’s pathetic spin on an even more pathetic pay deal, here’s my two cents worth.

Warren and Co’s crummy deal will be the second in a row that will see real wages drop. The bottom line was they didn’t have the guts to try to fight News, and News knew it. How could they not know it when the Union agreed to recommend the News deal as a condition of the offer being made?

Re, ex: Media Exec’s belief a pay rise would mean job losses, News have already cut anywhere between 10-20 per cent of the workforce in the last two-or-so years through a freeze on replacing naturally departing staff. The freeze has already given them more than the puny 11.5 per cent over 3 years, 8 months we’ve been press-ganged by the union into getting.

It is worth noting that the HWT meeting, which was informed about the Union’s cave-in to News’ demands that it recommend the deal to members, voted strongly against the deal. Warren and Co might like to explain just how many of the other meetings were told of this outrageously gutless deal.

The Hun Hack

The punishment from HUN hacks continues

A different Herald Sun hack writes:

Pose the following questions to the MEAA’s leadership, please Crikey. But first, some background.

Most of Melbourne is angry because this is the second successive shabby deal of great proportions (at least when it comes to the pay part, we’re ecstatic the casuals finally got a fair go) the union has tried to dress up as being a win.

Three years ago (1999), the MEAA came to us and told us that we’d got 7.5 per cent over 2.5 years, which was 3 per cent a year. Unfortunately or deliberately, they calculated the date of the final pay rise (Jan 1, 2002), as the day on which the deal ended, therefore ignoring that the agreement didn’t finish for six months, June 30, 2002. As the union was told in 1999 (again Melbourne was the only one to spell out concerns), that’s a 7.5 per cent deal over THREE years, not 2.5. Deal means annual increase is 2.5 per cent, not 3 per cent.

They now openly admit that it was 7.5%-3 year deal — and most admit it was a “go-backwards” 2.5 per cent a year deal.

But why did they sell it that way three years ago? There are only two possible reasons for this as I can see it. First possibility: they lied to us because they thought it was the best they could get. None of us want to believe that. Second possibility: their knowledge and understanding of numbers borders on stupidity (a current house committee official reluctantly agreed it was more likely this one).

Astoundingly, Chris is still trying to talk up the 1999 deal, even on the downgraded three year figures. Even if you take out the effect of the GST on inflation (which the tax cuts, not wage rises, were supposed to cover), it was a backwards agreement. But Chris claims we went forward over the 3 years in real terms by 1 per cent. I don’t know what CPI figures he’s using to support that claim, but it isn’t Australia’s. Suggest he’s mixed up Japan’s deflation with our own.

My reading is that in the last three years, inflation has run at 3.2 per cent (FY00), 3 per cent (estimate, taking out 3 per cent for the effect of the GST for FY01) and 2.8 per cent (FY02). (Source: RBA website, June quarter inflation stats). Compounded, that’s 9.27 per cent. Compounded 2.5 per cent a year pay rise is 7.69 per cent.

(Note: Even if you were ultra-generous to Chris’s numbers and compared the pay rises to the previous years, FY99, FY00 and FY01, you would get 7.47 per cent inflation, leaving a “real” increase of 0.22 per cent over the period of the agreement. Divide that by three years and you get three-eighths of sod-all).

Perhaps Crikey could make an unbiased numerical judgement on that one for us?

So, in light of that, could you put the following questions to someone at the MEAA regarding this current “real” increases.

1. Inflation now 2.8 per cent. GDP growth in excess of 4 per cent (4.2, I think). Reserve Bank states this morning (Monday, 12/8/02): “a continuation of the current pace of economic growth in the economy would most likely see increased pressures on wages and prices over the course of 2003”. Yep, pressure on inflation is upside. But nope, News Ltd’s employees won’t be putting any pressure on those wages because we’ve already locked in for 3 years 8 months at an arguable 3.1 to 3.2 per cent figure. It was hoped that these questions could have been put to Chris in Melbourne, but the asker was regularly told to shut up by house committee.

Question: What are Chris Warren’s expectations for inflation for the next three years (considering he should have known what it currently is) for him to claim the pay rise in the first three years (3 x 3) to be “real”. (I guess his comeback will be that “expectations” were that it would be lower … In that case the timing’s just plain crap for poor old Chris, ain’t it?).

2. The “3 x 3 plus 2.5” deal only existed if the union “recommended” the deal to its membership. Question: Why weren’t the members around Australia clearly told that News Ltd’s deal did not exist unless “recommended” by the union?

(When asked at the Melbourne meeting if the rest of the country had been told about this particular part of the offer, Chris’s answer was something along the lines of: “I think (city X) was told about it. I’m not sure about (city Y). And I don’t think it came up at (city Z).”)

We’ll start with those two, which I think are the most important. More later, if necessary.

Anon (current member considering being otherwise) ymous.

MEAA in poor shape in Canberra

A subscriber writes:

“It would be worth asking Chris Warren about the diabolical state of the union in Canberra and it’s absolute lack of punch – of any – kind that it can lend to any industrial matters. Check the score card: a branch that was well funded and strong in its asset base; well supported by members both in media and the public sector (until the APSU got smart and snaffled them); and with a rich vein of subscriptions.

Balance that against it’s silence over two television newsrooms that disappeared literally overnight; not a murmur when senior journalists get the flick from the local newspaper and another suburban title (The Valley View) gets swallowed up; let along the unseemly sacking of the long time industrial representative.

No wonder people are seriously questioning the worth of being a member.

Signed, former member of the AJA, resigned on amalgamation.

Peter Fray

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