It was all hands to the pumps on ABC Local radio this morning as management rolled up their sleeves to bring listeners a skeleton service during the strike by the members of the broadcaster’s two main unions.

Was that the head of ABC radio, Sue Howard, I heard, giving the weather after 7am? The news was read by Lisa Sweeney, who is an executive in ABC Radio News, and the sport came from Peter Longman, the head of ABC Radio Sport. The breakfast program was run out of Melbourne with two of the remaining Coodabeen Champions, Geoff Richardson and Ian Cover (a former Liberal Party member of the Victorian Parliament). AM at 8am was basically the BBC World Service for half an hour. 

Prior to the strike starting, all ABC employees received an emailed missive from Managing Director, Mark Scott. It reads:

I wanted to communicate with you briefly in light of the planned industrial action by members of the CPSU and the MEAA tomorrow.

As you may recall, just after I started as Managing Director in July, all staff were awarded a 3% salary increase. It was essentially the indexation we received in our budget allocation for the year. Rather than wait for our EBA talks to conclude, the Executive elected to pass it on to all staff early in the new financial year. A subsequent offer was made at 3.5%, but the staff and union rejected the trade-offs identified to help fund it.

I appreciate that other industry and public sector EBAs have settled for slightly higher outcomes than this — more in line with the CPI running at 4%. These agreements have been based on varying levels of efficiency offsets.

I would like to be able to give staff a further pay increase on top of 3% granted two months ago. Our challenge now is to work together to find ways of funding what staff feel will be a fair and reasonable pay rise without putting unsustainable pressure on our cost base or our ability to deliver programs. We need to be able to fund the additional increase.

We want to discuss how we do this in genuine negotiations with staff representatives. These negotiations are important as they go centrally to the way we work and the kind of service we provide. They are not the kind of discussions that can take place while industrial action is taking place or under threat of further industrial activity.

Tomorrow’s disruption will not help resolve the matters we have to reach agreement on. We will disappoint our audience as they lose some of their favourite programs. Staff will lose a day’s pay. I don’t see any winners.

Nearly everyone I have met in my time here has talked about their pride at working for the national broadcaster, which plays such an important part in the lives of millions of Australians each day. I trust that once tomorrow’s action is completed, we can quickly have management and staff representatives return to the negotiating table so a fair and responsible outcome can be reached, in the interests of staff and the ABC.

“No winners” is right. When will the old ABC staff “give us your money” approach to pay rises end? Pay rises have to be met from somewhere. Does the ABC staff propose asking THIS Federal Government to fund a pay rise for the ABC staff?

One way would be to turf out all the useless form checking, job creating processes in the ABC covering employment of people: the time consuming petty things like petty cash, costs, time sheets, overtime.

ABC staff moan about them but they don’t want to give these up because the skillful among them use them to their advantage (Sunday work in maintenance and other areas can be very lucrative, especially in TV).

There are a lot of cost savings to be made if the public service processes were taken out of the ABC and some private sector processes put in their place.

Peter Fray

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