As summer programming ends and ABC shows are prepped for their return within the following fortnight, those working on them have plenty left to do — but also plenty of distractions.

The consultation period over the ABC redundancies prompted by the government’s cuts to its budget is ongoing, and at present, the ABC and its unions are locked in the nitty-gritty part of the process. Those identified for potential redundancies have now been notified. Some have elected to go — around 100 people have already done so — while those who want to stay are waiting while redeployment options are sought for them. If no such positions are available, they’ll be made forcefully redundant, and will, after serving out their notice periods, pack up their desks. Insiders expect the process will drag on for several more weeks.

The pool redundancy process, dubbed “the Hunger Games” by disgruntled staff, has certainly made the impact of the redundancies more widely felt, ABC acting head of people Alan Sunderland admits. The ABC only wanted 100 redundancies from the pools process. But in order to conduct what ABC management argues was the most fair process — without prejudice against those working on shows to be terminated and the like — 330 journalists were placed in “redundancy pools”, forced to compete against those in their pools for a coveted number of positions that would still exist at the conclusion of the process.

The process has been highly controversial. Some ABC staff complain it’s evaporated any public goodwill that had existed towards the ABC after the government broke an election promise and reduced its funding. The Community and Public Sector Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have criticised the process for lacking transparency and for being arbitrary and difficult to understand. They fear the process has allowed ABC management to discreetly push through their agenda of who they want to keep and who they want to go. Many staff share the assessment. In a motion passed by ABC staff in Melbourne and Sydney last year, they voted to “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”.

ABC insiders have also complained to Crikey about the timing and length of the process. Staff were told in early December whether they’d been identified as potentially redundant, and were given until just before Christmas to decide whether or not to seek redeployment. Not all of those who’ve agreed to go are gone — some are still at the ABC this week, with the timing of their departure still being worked through. And those seeking redeployment still aren’t sure what’s happening. And consultation is still formally ongoing over some changes everyone knows are coming — like the axing of the state 7.30 shows.

Sunderland acknowledges the process has dragged on, but says progress is being made. “The timing is always a challenge … but we’re working through it,” he told Crikey. “There won’t be a day where we blow the whistle and the consultation period ends. But we are going through the proposals one by one.”

He says that given voluntary redundancies were ruled out (“in our view it wasn’t good for getting the people we need”), the pools process was the fairest way to conduct forced redundancies.

“If someone comes up with a way of telling 300 good people they’re no longer required in a way that is welcomed by everyone, I’d love to know what it is,” he said. “You cannot get away from the fact that we’re losing good people.” The acrimony and unrest resulting from this process, Sunderland says, “is the price you pay for being consultative and transparent”. “And we’ll keep talking to anyone who feels hard done by,” he added. As a result of consultations, he says several people who were placed in pools are no longer in them.

ABC staff Crikey spoke to say the moment of anger has passed — most are now resigned to the process. And there is excitement over the ABC’s new plans and shows. Some express relief that the painful “pools” process hasn’t resulted in acrimony between teams forced to compete against each other for their jobs.

But there’s fear for the future as well. No one expects the cuts to stop this year.

Corrections: Redeployment and the serving out of notice periods do not occur concurrently, as this piece originally alleged. It has been corrected. Also, the 100 vacancies from redundancy pools are across the whole ABC, and not just the news division. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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