Journalist and photographer Harriet Tatham has worked at the ABC for more than seven years, covering everything from floods to festivals (and even fellow union members).
But just this week Tatham had to quit a permanent position to accept a contract in a role she’s long wanted. It’s her 12th contract with the ABC.
“The instability is stressful and unsustainable,” she said on Twitter.
What is happening at the ABC?
Tatham is far from alone. The job insecurity at Australia’s public broadcaster is just one of the reasons why ABC staff are determined to win better pay and conditions.
Union members met on Monday and decided not to go ahead with a work stoppage on Tuesday. The decision came after ABC management returned with an improved offer than the one they presented in November 2022.
On a normal day, the rule for journalists is ‘report the story, don’t become the story’. Tuesday was an important exception. ABC staff went online and shared their own stories to explain the bargaining situation.
ABC News South Asia Correspondent Avani Dias said she was immensely proud to work at the broadcaster.
“But I want to see transparency on the racial and gender pay gap,” she said on Twitter.
“Diverse staff must be paid the same with equal contractual stability to our colleagues of the same skill level,” Dias said.
“If the ABC wants to uphold its commitment to building a public broadcaster that looks and sounds like Australia, it must work to do this immediately.”
ABC workers need decent conditions to deliver essential services
Tatham explained that management also had to address another gap at ABC.
“We need job security & pay progression – especially in our regional newsrooms,” she said.
This difference between metropolitan and regional newsrooms is well known to ABC Rural Queensland Senior Producer Elly Bradfield. She’s passionate about her job and was awarded Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year in 2016.
“I love my job at the ABC and living in regional Queensland, where I want to stay and raise my kids. But without sustainable careers, ABC can’t provide the essential service our regional communities deserve,” Bradfield said on Twitter.
“We need security for all staff through genuine access to progression for all and equality in the regions.”
A majority of regional journalists said that there were little to no opportunities for career progression, according to a 2022 report from the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA).
The union also found regional ABC staff were, on average, paid $25,000 less than metropolitan staff.
“I have lost too many good colleagues to churn and burn,” Bradfield said.
“We love our ABC and want it to be a great place to work. I’m standing with MEAA to win a fair deal.”
The best way forward is in union
With union members from MEAA and the Community and Public Sector Union working together, ABC workers are already facing better prospects than they were November last year.
In fact, they follow the footsteps of earlier newsroom progress in 2022. Just six months ago, freelance journalists at Nine newspapers were in a similarly sticky situation.
Freelancers had no minimum rates of pay despite Nine recording impressive profit increases. But after union members – freelance and permanent staff alike – joined together to demand a better deal, Nine management have agreed to negotiate.
And it’s not just newsrooms. Being in a union, no matter the industry, means you’re more likely to be paid more. On average, members have wages 26 per cent higher than non-members.
If you want to see change in your workplace, being in a union is the best way to make it happen.
These journalists are proud to work at the ABC. But they say things need to change