ABC staff will stop work and protest for 40 minutes at 2pm next Tuesday in a strike timed to coincide with the Reserve Bank’s next interest rate decision.
ABC sources privy to the decision said members thought 40 minutes was long enough to make a statement while undertaking modest action. “Note the timing is when the RBA is expected to make its interest rate announcement next Tuesday for maximum impact,” a source said.
Managing director David Anderson was pulled into negotiations last week after employees rejected the taxpayer-funded organisation’s most recent pay offer of a 10.5 per cent pay rise over three years with a $1500 one-off payment.
The ballot closed on Tuesday for the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance’s 1000 members, and 90 per cent of members ticked all options of industrial action. “Members are resolute that management needs to improve its offer to avoid disruptive industrial action over coming weeks,” a spokesperson for the union said.
The widely anticipated next rate rise – the 10th since the bank started raising rates in May 2022 – will add further pressure to household budgets amid a cost-of-living crisis, and the announcement will be closely watched by millions of Australians.
It will mark the first time the ABC has planned industrial action since 2006, when the 7pm television news was put together by managers, and national bulletins were presented by a state news editor.
ABC audiences may notice that regular broadcasts are replaced by pre-recorded material if television and radio staff walk off the job, which could happen again if the first attempt next Tuesday does not receive the desired outcome. While 40 minutes is the first step, staff have voted to walk out indefinitely if they can’t reach an agreement.
The MEAA spokesperson said it was up to ABC management to decide what contingency plans to put in place if radio and television broadcast staff downed tools as “that’s their problem to solve”, adding staff would decide what courses of action to take and when during meetings on Wednesday afternoon.
“At the meetings today, there’ll be discussions about what members are willing do to, what they think is the most effective form of action,” the spokesperson said. “It’s unlikely we’ll go the full 24-hour stoppage as the first form of action.”
Anderson agreed to postpone an imminent vote on the proposed enterprise agreement this month after staff rejected the offer of a 4 per cent pay increase this year, a 3.5 per cent increase next year, and a 3 per cent increase the following year.
The strike threat comes as a record fall in real wages due to soaring inflation emboldens national union heads at transport, construction and tertiary education unions to warn that strikes will be more frequent unless employers offer sufficient pay rises to their staff to counter rising living costs.
Community and Public Sector Union organiser Sinndy Ealy said members at the ABC would be wearing red and publishing social media posts in solidarity with striking MEAA colleagues. CPSU members have until March 15 to decide whether they will also strike.
Ealy previously accused the broadcaster of offering less than it did in a proposal that was voted down in December because a previous offer of backpay had since been excluded.
She also described the $1500 payment as a “sweetener” that would help with a few bills, but fail to address the rising costs of living. “ABC staff are not fools,” she said last month.
CPSU members are also voting on whether to undertake industrial action over the drawn-out pay negotiations. They will not participate in next Tuesday’s action as balloting has not concluded.
The ABC released a statement Wednesday evening saying the broadcaster continues to negotiate in good faith.
“The ABC is also committed to ensuring audiences experience as little disruption to services as possible during any industrial action.”
An ABC spokesperson previously denied the broadcaster was offering less.
“The ABC’s initial proposal was for a three-year agreement expiring in October 2025, with a one-off payment of $750 and pay increases of 3.5 per cent, 3 per cent and 2.5 per cent,” the spokesperson said.
”The new proposal is a three-year agreement expiring in March 2026, with a $1500 one-off payment, and higher pay increases during the life of the agreement, resulting in higher base salaries. This has been carefully calibrated with regard to the ABC’s fixed funding envelope.”
The spokesperson previously declined to comment on the prospect of industrial action.
Anderson sat down with staff on Tuesday. The MEAA spokesperson said Anderson agreed to discuss employees’ concerns with management but delivered no commitment to an improved offer.
The spokesperson said employees’ key concerns were backpay, pay-grade progression, and regular, transparent gender and race pay-gap audits.
The spokesperson wouldn’t predict the outcome of the talks with Anderson.
“Whether it takes actual industrial action to continue pushing him, or he does make a better offer, at this stage it’s unclear.”
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