Experienced Canberra journalists targeted in 'Hunger Games' job cuts
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Experienced Canberra journalists targeted in 'Hunger Games' job cuts

Nine of the ABC's most experienced and respected employees in Canberra have been tapped on the shoulder and told to fight for their jobs as part of a national-wide restructure of the broadcaster's newsrooms.

Despite the Canberra newsroom likely to have only two redundancies, all nine of the employees are being subjected to a process of proving they have the skills to be allowed to keep their jobs.

Despite his standing in the community, ABC newsreader Craig Allen is among the nine journalists being asked by the ABC to fight for their job.

Despite his standing in the community, ABC newsreader Craig Allen is among the nine journalists being asked by the ABC to fight for their job.

Insiders are calling it a version of The Hunger Games, with colleagues pitted against each other to see who comes out on top.

Even knowing most people would survive the cull, the insider said the entire process was having a demoralising impact on staff.

"It's a real kick in the teeth for all of us,'' one said.

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"We're senior people who offer some leadership yet we're are being told we are expendable."

The two Canberra redundancies are among 20 expected across the nation.

It's understood some of the ABC's most long-serving and experienced Canberra employees have been sidelined in a group that will ultimately make up the cuts from the TV and radio newsrooms at Dickson.

Other newer employees have been quarantined from the redundancies, creating a divisive atmosphere.

The Canberra Times understands those ABC employees being asked to fight for their job include newsreader Craig Allen, chief-of-staff Mike Donaldson and long-time legal reporter Elizabeth Byrne.

Also on the list are names the ABC-listening-and-watching community has known for years: reporter and newsreader Narda Gilmore, ABC Radio Canberra morning newsreader Susan McDonald and long-time sports and community commentator, Julian Abbott.

The redundancy process will see selected employees subject to a "skills matrix'', seeing how each matches to the broadcaster's requirements.

The redundancy process will see selected employees subject to a "skills matrix'', seeing how each matches to the broadcaster's requirements.

Other long-serving and respected names in the firing line include Marcus Kelson, Adrienne Francis and Andy Messenger.

An insider said those in the higher-bracket income band had been selected to make way for cheaper, younger staff who were focused on producing online content as the priority.

"The big push is for digital first and to focus online and file for all platforms, which pretty much everyone does already,'' the insider said.

The process was making all staff feel insecure and undervalued.

It will see all selected employees being subject to a "skills matrix'', seeing how each matches to the broadcaster's requirements.

"Given all of us do completely different jobs, it's like comparing apples and oranges,'' the person said.

"It pits colleague against colleague and that seems like a cruel way to go about it.''

Consulation is expected to take two weeks with a final decision to follow that.

ABC spokeswoman Sally Jackson confirmed there would be no voluntary redundancies.

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"The ABC does not have a voluntary redundancy process because we want and need to be able to retain particular skills and competencies as we build the most effective team for the challenges ahead,'' she said.

Ms Jackson suggested the ABC did not like the process any more than the employees.

"The ABC uses a selection pool process based on merit because it is fair and transparent for everyone,'' she said.

"It ensures people in the same band and with similar skills are assessed against the same, set criteria for the skills, competencies and attributes we need going forward.

"Our preference would be to run these assessments in the background so people only need to be consulted about the outcome, and are not needlessly concerned they’re potentially at risk when most people are not.

"This would remove the uncertainty for a large number of people and be much less disruptive.

"However, as part of previous changes the [Community and Public Sector Union] wanted all employees to be informed that they have been placed in a pool. This issue was the subject of a dispute and the approach is now contained within orders made last year by the Fair Work Commission.''

When asked why more experienced and potentially more costly journalists were being targeted, Ms Jackson said: "This is not a cost-cutting proposal''.

"New senior editorial roles would be introduced to add to the expertise and skills in the newsrooms and at the end of this process we anticipate having the same number of editorial employees,'' she said.

CPSU ABC section secretary Sinddy Ealy said the ABC process of cutting staff was "callous and destructive''.

“The CPSU has consistently pushed ABC management over several years to adopt a voluntary redundancy process rather than their divisive Hunger Games approach,'' she said.

"Putting targeted staff into selection pools and expecting them to fight among themselves for survival is a callous and destructive way of cutting jobs.

"We pushed unsuccessfully for explicit voluntary redundancy provisions in the last employment agreement because that would be far better for staff and the ABC, doing far less damage to morale.”

Ms Ealy said ABC director of news, Gaven Morris, had somehow tried to blame the union for the process of job cuts when it was the doing of ABC management.

"The CPSU has pushed through Fair Work to make this pools process as fair and transparent as possible, but we remain firmly of the view that ABC should be offering voluntary redundancies. There’s nothing stopping ABC from doing that right now,'' she said.

“ABC management are pretending their process was kinder and more reasonable before the CPSU’s intervention but staff know that claim is absurd and false.

"In 2015, targeted staff were told they were being made redundant in secret meetings held without representation, and before management had even announced they were cutting positions. Running this process ‘in the background’, as the ABC claims is its preference, actually means keeping staff in the dark.”

Megan Doherty

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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