ABC staff have been branded “self-indulgent” for taking a pay rise when other workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic have had their wages frozen.
ABC staff have been branded “self-indulgent” for taking a pay rise when other workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic have had their wages frozen.

ABC branded ‘self-indulgent’ for voting themselves pay rise

ABC staff have been branded "self-indulgent" for insisting on a pay rise when other public sector workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic have had their wages frozen.

Eighty per cent of the public broadcaster's staff voted against a proposal to defer the pay rise for six months and to instead pocket the cash straight away.

The vote brought widespread condemnation when public sector workers in 112 government agencies including the department of health have had their pay frozen to help the nation counter a pandemic driven recession.

"This decision is out of line with public expectations," Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Ben Morton said.

"It has always been the Government's expectation that the temporary wage increase deferral we announced in April is applied equally to all agencies in the Commonwealth public sector."

Workers in publicly funded agencies that have had a 12-month pay freeze include Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Health.

Mr Morton said the ABC staff vote was "an affront to those public servants who have worked so hard during the pandemic" and "disrespects the public servants who have had the deferral of wage increases applied to them, as well as their colleagues in the broader media sector".

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Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said: "At a time when over a million Australians have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 downturn, employees in the Australian Public Service face a pay freeze, and many other media organisations have implemented pay cuts or extensive job cuts, the Government considered it appropriate that ABC employees should also have a temporary pay-freeze.

"We felt it would have been a fine gesture of solidarity with those across the media sector who have been doing it much tougher than the ABC. It is evident from the results of (the) vote that ABC staff did not share this view."

The ABC board has sole responsibility for setting pay and conditions.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose wrote to staff explaining managing director David Anderson had already declined a pay rise and all members of the ABC board had agreed to a 10 per cent reduction in fees.

She offered ABC staffers the chance to vote on deferring the two per cent raise for six months to April 1. The $5 million saving would go instead to fund emergency broadcasting.

But ABC staff instead voted to pocket the cash immediately.

In a memo to all staff on Wednesday ABC Chief People Officer Rebekah Donaldson wrote: "We now have the result of that process and staff have voted against deferring the 2 per cent increase for all eligible employees, an increase agreed and signed off by the Fair Work Commission last January. This increase will be included in the next pay cycle."

Mediaweek editor James Manning said: "It seems odd to decide to take a pay rise in a year like this when the organisation is already struggling to find budget for programming and is losing staff."

Evan Mulholland, director of communications at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, said it showed "self-indulgent" ABC staffers were cut off from the rest of Australia.

"This is further proof that the ABC, despite their insistence to the contrary, are not a part of Australia's cultural fabric but are completely removed from mainstream Australia," he said.

"Staff members at our national broadcaster now consider themselves morally superior and more worthy of a two per cent pay rise than staff at Services Australia, Centrelink, the Department of Health and the Department of Social Services, who have all been on the front line of the response to this pandemic, and have all taken a six month pay freeze."

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government considered it appropriate that ABC employees should also have a temporary pay freeze. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government considered it appropriate that ABC employees should also have a temporary pay freeze. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

But unions representing ABC workers, The Community and Public Sector Union and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance welcomed the vote.

Alex Portelli from the MEAA congratulated ABC staff for "staring down" the proposal.

"The proposed pay freeze angered ABC staff, coming just a fortnight after more than 200 of their colleagues left the organisation as a result of the latest round of redundancies.

"All this year, ABC news and current affairs staff have worked tirelessly to keep the nation informed about firstly the bushfires crisis and then the coronavirus pandemic," he said.

"The management proposal for a six month pay freeze was the final insult."

Former ABC journalist and staff-elected board member Quentin Dempster said the pay rise had been agreed on the condition there be no variation.

"The staff of the ABC are fully entitled to say no to this variation," he said.

Originally published as ABC branded 'self-indulgent' for voting themselves pay rise



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