John Menadue. Outsourcing and redundancy at the ABC.

Dec 8, 2014

Mark Scott has expressed concern at the pain being felt by staff losing their jobs and careers. He announced that he and his senior team would take a pay freeze for a year.

When it was pointed out that there would not be sufficient staff left to fill the program schedule, some senior manager apparently announced that the money achieved through some of the budget savings would be used to commission some individual programs and short series from some of those very people who are about to be made redundant. So, the ABC management is proposing to sack long serving and loyal staff with proper jobs, and use their salaries to bring them back on short term contracts and commissions with no security of employment.

The cuts will fall most heavily in program making areas. Over the past several years the ABC has closed its television production centres in Perth, Hobart and now Adelaide which has so upset Christopher Pyne. At the same time it has radically cut internal production in Sydney, until virtually the only in-house TV programs left are Compass and Catalyst. Now they are moving the outsourcing philosophy into Radio. The cuts will fall most heavily on staff in programs requiring depth of production, research and analysis; in TV and Radio News and Current Affairs, and in radio documentaries and features.

Mark Scott says the ABC needs to target younger audiences. The ABC has been talking about that for decades. And the same commercial formula for doing so is being trotted out again: Make it shorter, make it lighter, make it cheaper, and if possible make it funny.  What was that about dumbing down?

The intent it seems is to transform the ABC from a production house, reflecting the geographic and cultural diversity of the nation, into a commissioning and transmission agency, serving a few big commercial co-production houses, such as Southern star and Endemol.

The difficulty with this model is that commercial co-production partners may cover their costs plus a few percent doing a deal with the ABC, but their real mark-up comes from selling the product on the global market. This means productions skewed to their commercial sales potential rather than editorial merit for Australia.

The second consequence of this model is that with journalists and producers on casual and short term contracts, staff are going to be very timid about offending the powerful. This form of short term, run of show, contract employment poses a significant threat to independent vigorous program making, and to a free media. It risks the public purpose of the ABC.

The major industrial problem facing staff is that the ABC has told them that all redundancies will be individually targeted. This breaks a long standing expectation of staff. As the cuts have come in waves every decade or so and staff numbers have shrunk from around five and half thousand to around three thousand, staff have been allowed to volunteer for redundancy, and where possible to arrange for staff who wish to go to substitute for staff who wish to stay, so long as the targeted savings can be met. This was generally done as a way of cushioning the pain and gaining maximum staff co-operation in a difficult situation. This time round management have pre-emptively declared No Voluntary redundancies, and No Substitutions. Faced with industrial laws that make striking illegal, except during a once in 3 year wage bargaining period, staff are faced with the prospect of risking punitive legal retribution if they protest.



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