For workers at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the past decade has been punishing.
The endless hostility from Conservative governments, cuts and shrinking budgets, and rampant job cuts have made the broadcaster a tough place to work.
The election of the Albanian government gave some hope that the worst was over and that the ABC could finally recover from the damage caused by a decade of attacks.
The reality is that the damage to ABC and its workers is profound, and it requires urgent and immediate action.
Last week, members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) at the ABC delivered around 850 personal messages to ABC management demanding a fair pay rise, improved career progression routes and a review of the crushing workload many staff face.
That told MEAA Media Director Cassie Derrick At work that she read all 850 messages written to management and was struck by the level of anguish they contained.
“There was a lot of hopelessness in them, people just wanting to tell management that they don’t actually see a way forward unless things change,” Derrick said.
“It’s really clear that the people who work at the ABC care a lot about it, and they want it to work as it should. They want the ABC to do everything it’s supposed to do for the Australian public.”
Derrick believes that a robust ABC is more important than ever, and that if it is to thrive, it must first take care of its staff.
“ABC is so incredibly important and becoming more important every day. The staff at ABC are constantly trying to do more with less,” she says.
Not only are the staff under relentless pressure to meet the demands of management and the public, like many other workers in Australia, they have had their pay cut, according to Derrick.
“Over the last decade there has been systemic wage theft all over the place. ABC defaulted on the payment of overtime buyouts and they had to pay back millions of dollars to people.”
“The way they’ve dealt with cuts is by firing all the experienced journalists at the higher grades and then rehiring positions at three or four lower grades,” she said.
What this means is that ABC employees … are working way above their pay grade, working hours way beyond what they are actually engaged to do, and doing the workload of multiple people without any recognition or respect, or the ability to keep up.
MEAA Media Director
“What we’re seeing here is our members telling us, ‘We just can’t do it anymore.’
ABC’s employment model has become dependent on a ready and willing temporary workforce engaged on short-term contracts – sometimes running for years on end.
MEAA members are pushing hard to end this cycle of uncertainty for workers.
ABC staff always put their audience first and have therefore been reluctant to take industrial action that could affect the delivery of programs and content.
But with so many workers at breaking point, that may have to be the next course of action, according to Derrick.
“We are currently in the process of moving towards protected action, which is something we haven’t done at the ABC for a very long time,” she said.
“The ABC has an important role in Australian life, and Australians really care about the ABC.”
“Our members want to improve their own working lives but they also want to see an ABC that works as it should and that the public deserves,” Derrick said.
Cover image: Sam McGhee at Unsplash