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TV & Radio

Nov 1, 2012

RN staff fight back: take management to task, not us

All is not well within ABC Radio National, where staffers are at loggerheads over cost cutting. In response to a letter published by Crikey, a group of unhappy program makers give their take.

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We write as a group of 26 Radio National program makers concerned about the inaccuracies, blatant untruths and misdirected anger from an “anonymous” staff member published in Crikey on Monday. Is “anonymous” really misinformed, or someone with a very specific agenda?

They write of employment practices they consider unfair, workplace stress due to “increased workloads as already time-poor producers struggle to maintain high standards”, lack of opportunity for career progression regardless of excellent performance, new programs introduced without adequate resourcing and financial stress due to casualisation. And of features and drama producers being put through a redundancy and restructure process aimed at saving money: “It’s finally their turn to share some of the pain. But of course, they can’t take it gracefully.”

Oh dear. We empathise with the crushing stress this person is clearly feeling, but would it not be more appropriate for them to direct their rage at ABC management for their actions in systematically creating such conditions for workers, rather than lashing out at a small group of fellow staff members and the Community and Public Sector Union, the union established to protect their rights? Wouldn’t it be more effective to hold management to their responsibilities under the employment agreement, as our union has done?

The CPSU put a number of questions to Radio National management; questions about the restructuring of the features and documentaries divisions and the axing of the drama unit, the potential redundancy of senior staff members including operational staff and administrative staff. Our right to ask these questions is enshrined in the employment agreement with the ABC as part of a process of consultation.

“Anonymous” complains about the number of questions that have been asked. If there had been consultation with the affected areas before decisions were made then the number of questions that needed to be asked could have been greatly reduced. As it stands there was no consultation. Radio drama staff were given no indication that change was desired, and no opportunity to contribute to discussions about the future direction of the unit. The Night Air was praised by management and then decommissioned. In the case of operational staff, Radio National management has admitted they reneged on a previous agreement they had with them.

There are a great number of inaccuracies in their letter.

They say features producers are “disproportionally higher paid” than producers working on daily current affairs programs. This is not true: there are four “band 8” producers (excluding executive producers) in features covering three programs (360 Documentaries, Hindsight and Into the Music) and 41 “band 8” staff (excluding executive producers) plus 16 “band 9” staff across the network as a whole. Where’s the disproportion in that?

They also believe wages paid to arts and features producers are somehow responsible for the casualisation of staff on short-term contracts and the locking up of people on low salary bands.  This is absolutely wrong; all you need to do is look across the ABC and talk to people in local radio. The model they complain about is ABC wide and has nothing to do with the salary level of features producers. To suggest otherwise is scurrilous and mischievous and buys into the disinformation that is being circulated to pit staff against each other.

Apparently it is also a problem to be over 50. Do good ideas, innovation, experimentation, efficiency and competence end once you cross the 50 barrier?  Tell that to Phillip Adams, Geraldine Doogue, Norman Swan, Robyn Williams, Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones, Mark Colvin and many others in the ABC whose work is still highly respected. The “over-50s” targeted for redundancy have worked with and mentored a lot of younger staff members and freelancers during their careers and continue to do so.

“Anonymous” quotes questions they say come from features producers and the CPSU such as “why are you making features producers do more work?” and “why should features producers have to submit budgets and timelines?”. Features producers never asked such simplistic questions — these were formulated by RN management in a hypothetical Q & A document. The questions are disingenuous: what planet is anonymous living on if they don’t know that all programs, including features, on Radio National work to strict budgets and timelines and have always done so?

We can only hope “anonymous” is not working on a program that requires accuracy and research.

Signed: Lorena Allam, Gary Bryson, John Cleary, Brent Clough, Maureen Cooney, Diane Dean, Sharon Davis, Libby Douglas, Rachel Kohn, Krystyna Kubiak, Mike Ladd, Penny Lomax, John Jacobs, Anna Messariti, Gretchen Miller, Louis Mitchell, Cathy Peters, Annabelle Quince, Julie Rigg, Russell Stapleton, Nicole Steinke, Kerry Stewart, Claudia Taranto, Steven Tilley, Jane Ulman, Christopher Williams and Anne Wynter.

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