Prime Minister ‘Surprised’ ABC Staff Reject Pay Freeze, Media Sector Reacts

By Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson
Caden Pearson is a reporter based in Australia. Contact him on
September 30, 2020Updated: September 30, 2020

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised staff at Australia’s public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), for voting to give themselves a pay rise amid the COVID-19 recession. In contrast, many other federal public sector staff and agencies agreed to a wage freeze.

Both the prime minister and the communications minister requested ABC staff take a temporary six-month pay freeze.

But staff at the national broadcaster have instead voted on Sept. 30 to give themselves a two percent raise.

The prime minister said on Oct. 1 that 112 other Commonwealth agencies, public servants, and federal politicians had agreed to freeze their wages.

Morrison also said many in the private media industry “are taking big pay cuts.”

“So I was quite surprised that they took that view. It was a six-month delay. And so both to their fellow public servants and those in the media industry, in particular, I was surprised,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB.

The ABC pay increase, which is due to take effect this month, was included in an enterprise agreement endorsed by the Fair Work Commission in January before the pandemic.

Paul Fletcher, the communications minister, wrote to the ABC in May to ask them to freeze the increase.

“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,” Fletcher told News Corp’s The Australian. “It is evident from the results of today’s vote that ABC staff did not share this view.”

Ben Morton, the assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet, who led the move to freeze public sector wage increases due to the pandemic, reportedly said the ABC staff’s vote to reject the freeze was an “affront” to the rest of the public service.

“Today’s result 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,” said Morton.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reportedly saw an email from Rebekah Donaldson, the ABC’s chief people officer, on Sept. 30 that said 80 percent of ABC’s staff voted against the pay freeze in line with what their unions urged.

Media Sector Reacts

Members of Australia’s media sector reacted to the news on social media.

Chris Smith, a television and radio host, said ABC staff were “totally and utterly detached from Australia and the mood of Australians. No wonder their views are so out of whack too.”

Meanwhile, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia’s largest media trade union, congratulated its members at the ABC “who have stood together, stared down a pay freeze and insisted that their enterprise agreement, negotiated in good faith less than a year ago, be honoured.”

Janet Albrechtsen, a columnist for News Corp’s The Australian, criticised the ABC, writing: “And these clowns overwhelming pushed for a harder longer lockdown. If I want to listen to an overpaid clown, I will go to the circus.”

Evan Mulholland, the Institute of Public Affairs’ communications director, shared strong criticism of the ABC decision. “While the rest of media is being smashed as advertising revenue dries up, ABC staff have shown their disdain for mainstream Australians doing it tough in the private sector by opting for a self-indulgent pay rise. And they wonder why people think they are out of touch?” he wrote.

Former ABC chief economist Emma Alberici hit back at the government, writing: “Have the Government agreed to a pay freeze for all its parliamentary staff? Did I miss that in all the biffo in the US?”