Australia: Proposed wage freeze stifles broadcaster’s independence

The Australian federal government’s communications minister Paul Fletcher requested ABC employees to go without a pay rise for the next six months. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) urge the government to abstain from intervening in a matter between media workers, ABC management and the unions.

The logo for Australia's public broadcaster ABC is seen on its head office building in Sydney. Credit: Saeed KHAN / AFP

On May 20, Paul Fletcher warned the ABC’s national director David Anderson, the government was expecting the organisation to defer employee’s wage increase scheduled for October. Anderson suggested this would be consistent with practices across government agencies that started with the government order in April, delaying wage increases for public servants for six months. The public service commissioner followed up on the April directive, voicing an expectation the broadcaster will follow the government’s suggestion. 

While ABC’s current enterprise agreement has scheduled a wage increase for October, any variations to the agreement are between ABC management and the union. Anderson wrote to ABC staff informing them he has requested for his salary to be reduced by 5 per cent. Anderson said: “Unlike the Australian Public Service, the ABC does not have the ability to unilaterally alter the working conditions of its employees.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic has deepened media crisis in Australia; since January 2019, more than 150 Australian newsrooms have temporarily or permanently closed. This week saw the closure of BuzzFeed News in Australia and the online news site 10 Daily.  

The chief executive officer of MEAA, Paul Murphy said the warning has turned this “into an issue of ABC independence” and the current government’s “unhealthy obsession with the ABC.”

The IFJ said: “It is entirely inappropriate for the government to force ABC employees to accept a wage freeze. Any attempt to limit the wages of journalists threatens to compromise the editorial independence of the broadcaster and creates an opportunity for the government to exploit the labour of ABC employees and undermines the journalist union.

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram