Some of the ABC’s most prominent radio and television presenters suffered disruptions to their broadcasts on Wednesday as production and technical staff walked off the job for the first time in 17 years.
ABC Radio National’s flagship breakfast show with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Sydney breakfast with James Valentine and ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland and Lisa Millar were among the programs temporarily affected as members of one of the broadcaster’s unions – the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) – took strike action following months of frustrations with ABC management over a wage and work conditions agreement.
CPSU members walk off the job at the ABC’s Ultimo offices to send a message to management about working conditions.Credit:James Brickwood
The ABC is in the final stages of signing a new three-year agreement with its employees, which includes an 11 per cent increase in wages and a one-off $1500 bonus. Despite reaching a resolution, CPSU members decided to push ahead with plans to strike for one hour at both 7am and 3pm to vent their frustration at the difficult negotiating process that began nine months ago.
The CPSU and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) had both planned to strike on Wednesday, but the latter pulled out after reaching an agreement with ABC management to draft the new agreement.
Staff protesting at the ABC’s headquarters in Sydney on Wednesday afternoon were joined by left-wing activist and musician Billy Bragg, who was singing songs. More strike action is expected on Thursday.
English singer songwriter Billy Bragg played a few songs for ABC strikers.Credit:James Brickwood
An ABC spokesman said the action had affected RN and local radio stations. Listeners in Sydney heard James O’Brien instead of Valentine in the morning, and RN listeners heard News Radio.
“We regret audiences were impacted and we welcome the MEAA’s decision to call off its stopwork action,” the spokesman said. “The ABC has consistently welcomed the opportunity for constructive negotiations to find the best outcome for staff and the organisation. We believe the EA (enterprise agreement) proposal is fair and equitable to all parties.”
Sinddy Ealy, the CPSU’s ABC section secretary, said on Tuesday that ABC’s management needed to be shown how angry its members were with the negotiation process.
“[It’s] about showing management at the ABC that our members are … angered by the level of disrespect they have been shown throughout it,” Ealy said. “ABC management cannot throw CPSU members off their course of action, now or ever.”
Ealy said on Wednesday the disruptions to regular radio programming had “behind the scenes” led to a “lot of management scurrying to try and circumvent the action.”
“Where, for example, the presenter or a mornings team went off-air, those services would’ve been rerouted to other services, but local listeners would be very aware to the change in their normal programming,” she said.
Wednesday’s strike also coincided with a webinar hosted by ABC’s head of people, Dharma Chandra, for the ABC Alumni, a registered non-profit made up of former staff.
The new workplace agreement, once signed, will give ABC staff a pay rise of 11 per cent over three years, backdated to October 1, 2022.
They will also receive a one-off $1500 bonus, an audit of the gender and cultural diversity pay gap, and a new framework for career progression, putting an end to a difficult nine months for ABC staff and management, who have been at loggerheads over key pay and working conditions.
ABC managing director David Anderson directly intervened in negotiations in February after months of failed talks between executives and the unions. Staff voted to escalate the dispute in March, filing requests with the Fair Work Commission that ultimately allowed them to strike.
The MEAA’s media director Cassie Derrick, who announced on Tuesday its members would not strike, said Anderson’s direct intervention had dramatically improved talks.
“Clearly, the threat of industrial action has helped to focus ABC’s management’s mind, as has the outpouring of support for our members from ABC viewers and listeners,” Derrick said.
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