Simplified workplace relations at your ABC

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Simplified workplace relations at your ABC

A demarcated radio and TV structure and a plethora of awards, agreements and classifications hit a brick wall when the ABC faced funding cuts, a changing media world and internal pressures.

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A demarcated radio and TV structure and a plethora of awards, agreements and classifications hit a brick wall when the ABC faced funding cuts, a changing media world and internal pressures.

To address the challenge, the ABC placed radio, TV and new media under one management structure and made employment conditions consistent, simpler and flexible across all media.

This resulted in ‘One ABC’ and less complicated workplace relations.

The ABC employs 4,300 core staff and up to 1,000 casuals, across eight TV production sites, 62 local radio stations, four national radio networks, ABC new media, Radio Australia & Asia pacific TV and 37 ABC shops.

ABC manager of employee relations, Tim Burrows, speaking at the Linking Employee Relations to Organisational Objectives conference in Melbourne this week said unification, simplification and flexibility was unavoidable, as it was necessary to better utilise radio, TV and internet personnel and resources.

Particularly, in the face of declining budgets, such as Federal Government funding cuts; and a changing media environment, such as the growth of digital technology and demands from co-production houses for the ABC to better reflect the industry in which it was working, he said.

Also, there was internal pressure to change workplace relations across all media through provisions such as consistent and simpler remuneration and reward systems, greater flexibility, opportunities to expand careers, and strategies to retain and develop skilled staff.  

The ‘One ABC’ concept was created under the leadership of Brian Johns in 1996; and it was the breaking down of TV and radio management structures that magnified the problems with employment conditions. This facilitated moves in 1998 to make one flexible workplace relations system, Burrows said.

The ABC started from a position of no consistency in employment conditions across radio and TV, five awards, five enterprise agreements (EA), 68 classification groups, 23 sets of conditions, 11 performance systems, outdated terms of employment, and numerous policies, staff rules, general orders and local agreements.

The final result was consistency across radio and TV, three EAs, a single nine-banded structure, three classifications, two sets of conditions, one performance management system linked to salary, and the ability to implement fixed-term contracts and ‘run of show’ employment.

The EAs covered media, retail and senior employees and consolidated conditions and entitlements, Burrows said.

Getting agreement

The ABC consulted management and staff before embarking on the simplification process.

Management were asked what they wanted, resulting in the development of a proposal that was given to the staff.

A series of briefings, focus groups and workshops were held with staff and management to develop the proposal further. At that stage unions were asked to contribute.

After some initial problems where the unions backed away and management threatened to move to Australian Workplace Agreements, the unions came back to the negotiating table and the new workplace arrangements were agreed to.

Flexibilities

Management flexibilities achieved through the new arrangements included:

  • four to 10 hour shifts;

  • distant work provisions, allowing 12 hour and split shifts;

  • two or four week roster cycles; and

  • buyouts of penalties overtime and allowances.

Staff flexibilities included: 

  • increased access to part-time work;

  • access to job planning;

  • family, adoption and parental leave;

  • recognition of family responsibilities as criteria in determining shifts;

  • the ability to enter flexible working arrangements to meet personal needs; and

  • salary sacrifice.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Some managers were fearful and resistant to change, while others were ‘over excited ‘and took the offer of flexibility too far, Burrows said.

Also it was not always possible to meet staff expectations and the ability of line managers to implement flexibilities had to also be considered, he added.

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