Ita Buttrose.

ABC staff will vote next week on whether or not to accept the Federal Government’s request to defer for six months a 2 per cent pay rise that is due to come into effect on October 1.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher wrote to ABC MD David Anderson in May proposing that ABC employees accept the same wage rise pause imposed on the Australian Public Service in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In an email to staff, ABC chair Ita Buttrose said the board has been considering this request and after exploring many options decided to ask ABC staff to vote on whether to accept the deferral.

“The decision is yours,” she said, noting a deferral would deliver a one-off benefit of $5 million but would not help the broadcaster achieve the annual savings requirement of $41 million by fiscal 2022.

“It will enable us, however, to make a significant investment in two of our most important functions: emergency broadcasting services and public interest journalism, which are both valued by the community.”

The ballot will run from next Monday to Friday and the outcome will be determined by Tuesday September 29.

Unsurprisingly, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, many of whose members are among the 250 staff who are departing due to forced or voluntary redundancy, is recommending a “no” vote.

In the email Buttrose states: “The board acknowledges the dreadful economic turmoil that COVID-19 has inflicted on us and the way we live, and its horrific impact on Australia’s economy.

“With our nation facing extremely challenging conditions it seems reasonable that we play our part and for Australia’s national broadcaster to make an important contribution to our nation’s well being.

“Everyone at the ABC has demonstrated their commitment during 2020 to both the organisation and the community we serve. Bushfires, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing impact of budget cuts and subsequent redundancies have been extremely challenging.

“The board recognises the considerable efforts and sacrifices of everyone who works at the ABC and thanks you all for your extraordinary professionalism and dedication.

“The independence of the ABC is enshrined in legislation and is sacrosanct, as Australians would and should expect. Regardless of the outcome of this issue, I know that with your help we will continue to deliver the highest level of public broadcasting to our audiences throughout Australia.”

In May Anderson declined the salary increase that would have been paid to him and offered to cut his pay by 5 per cent, while all board members agreed to a 10 per cent reduction in fees for six months.

In a statement to IF, Adam Portelli, acting director, MEAA Media, said: “It is extremely disappointing that ABC management has bowed to Federal Government pressure and is proceeding with a proposal to freeze the pay of ABC staff for six months.

“It is especially concerning in light of the incredible job ABC staff have done during the COVID crisis in keeping Australians informed and the recent savage job cuts at the national broadcaster.

“This proposed pay freeze is not a done deal. ABC staff will get to decide whether this pay freeze occurs or not, and MEAA will be recommending that members vote no to the proposal.”

In turn, the ABC disputes those comments, noting the ABC Act, while guaranteeing the independence of the Corporation and that sole responsibility for setting staff pay and conditions rests with the board, also requires the board to consider advice on government policy when requested.

The Enterprise Agreement with staff means the broadcaster cannot enforce the deferral of the pay rise, hence the poll to let staff decide.