The two unions representing the ABC’s workers are meeting with ABC management at 2pm today, furious at the forced redundancy arrangements imposed on the organisation’s staff.
The widely dubbed “Hunger Games” redundancy pools (even managing director Mark Scott referred to it thus at meetings with staff in Brisbane yesterday) collect together ABC journalists into groups with similar skills. A certain percentage of each pool is then assessed for redundancy — staff are pitted each other to best convince management their skills should put them at the top of the pool, earning them a reprieve from Aunty’s government-imposed cost-cutting.
Staff are furious at the process, describing it as extraordinarily destructive of goodwill. Hundreds of staff in Melbourne and Sydney approved a motion to “reject ABC management’s skills assessment matrix” and “not participate in this duplicitous process, where management are clearly carrying out a program of targeted redundancies, the outcome of which we the staff feel has already been decided”.
What the unions want is the ABC to go down an industrial process called substitution. A form of voluntary redundancy, this allows staff who put their hands up for redundancy to have others within the organisation volunteer to take on their jobs. This will be the main focus of the meetings today. “If the unions get substitution, the dispute will be over,” one ABC source told us.
Speaking to staff in Brisbane yesterday, the fourth city ABC brass have visited to explain the cuts since Monday, Scott expanded on why he wasn’t pursuing a voluntary redundancy scheme. “This is the process we’ve long had in our industrial agreements,” he said. “It’s in the agreement, and we’re following these guidelines.”
In his experience with voluntary redundancy schemes, Scott said, it “sounds good on day one”, but they’re very hard to work through. “People put up their hands, you let some people stay, some people go, some people badly want to go and you force them to stay… Often the whole process can seem quite arbitrary and quite unfair. We’re trying to be fair and transparent,” he said.
But Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance director of media Paul Murphy says the ABC has a history of agreeing to substitution arrangements. For example, it used one with the closure of the Asia-Pacific News Centre in Melbourne earlier this year. “The enterprise bargaining agreement doesn’t require voluntary redundancies … But if a company like Fairfax can do it, why can’t the ABC?”
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On the other hand, Crikey understands the ABC has used a similar skills matrix approach to redundancies before — for example, that was how the organisation dealt with the job losses needed after the loss of the Australia Network contract. But the unions managed to soften the process somewhat in negotiations to allow those who wanted to stay a way to do so.
Community and Public Sector Union lead ABC organiser Sarah Hunt says the ABC wants to get this “done and dusted by Christmas” but “is getting ahead of itself. ”
“The ABC has a legal obligation to talk to affected staff first and discuss measures that the ABC is taking to minimise redundancies and reduce the impact on employees,” she said. “There is nothing in the agreement that says it can pit colleague against colleague in a corrosive spill and fill process. Staff are having the week from hell, and they feel like the ABC can’t wait to get rid of them. In today’s meeting we will be talking about how the ABC can take a sensible approach to managing change; how it can minimise redundancies while implementing the terrible cuts forced upon it by the government.”
Hunt says although she appreciates Scott’s desire to do things sensibly, “he is going about it not the right way”. “We will try to get to the bottom of it in today’s meeting.”
The selection pools are the largest but not the only issue troubling the unions about the ABC redundancies. Crikey understands the position descriptions of some roles have already been changed in a way that makes their current occupants unlikely to be reappointed to those roles. And some jobs in middle management have been advertised, but at lower bands than the current holders of the positions are currently on, meaning they’ll be required to take a pay cut if they hope to keep their roles.
Some high-profile staff have already left the organisation. For example, Sue Spencer, the executive producer of Four Corners since 2007, has resigned, though The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that had nothing to do with the program having its budget cut next year. In an ironic twist, one of those who may be leaving the organisation is staff-elected board director Matt Peacock, a reporter with 7.30 who has been placed in one of the redundancy pools. As a member of the board, he would have signed off on the redundancies.