ABC staff brace for redundancies in major restructure despite $6b budget boost

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ABC staff are bracing for redundancies in senior ranks from a major restructure that is widely expected to be announced as soon as this week, despite the federal government providing five years of funding certainty to the broadcaster in Tuesday’s budget.

The reorganisation will shift the broadcaster from having three divisions to just two: news and content, putting executives first in the firing line for job losses that will help the ABC cover an 11 per cent pay rise it agreed to give staff over the next three years.

The ABC’s restructure moves it further away from its old model, where different mediums like TV and radio operated in silos. Credit: Steven Siewert

The ABC has emphasised that the restructure is designed to improve how it commissions content, simplify its structure and help it chase digital audiences rather than being a money-saving measure. But it has refused to rule out job losses in correspondence with the Community and Public Sector Union obtained by this masthead.

“The [union] often asks the ABC to give a commitment that no employer can give, and that is to guarantee that there will be no redundancies resulting from a change,” ABC employee relations head Vanessa MacBean wrote on Tuesday in response to a question about regional staff. “What we can do is reiterate the managing director [David Anderson’s] message that this change is not about a reduction in roles.”

Under the restructure, first revealed by this masthead in November, the news division will absorb the ABC’s dozens of regional bureaux. Non-news content – which is in divisions called “Entertainment and Specialist” and “Regional and Local” that have a substantial number of executives – will be merged into an overarching content division. The move is intended to enable the ABC to commission shows more efficiently and focus on reaching its increasingly online audience, though it could also signal further staff changes in coming months or years.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers promised $6 billion to the ABC over the next five years in an announcement that fulfilled an election commitment and received a warm welcome from the broadcaster. Budget papers show it has an average staff of 4213 full-time equivalent positions.

In an email to members that also included the exchange with MacBean and was obtained by this masthead, the CPSU said it feared a “sizeable number” of redundancies were coming and recommended they take a support person to any meeting with managers. It criticised the ABC for a lack of communication on the moves – which MacBean had rejected – and said: “Hopefully, management does a better job communicating meaningful information moving forward.”

The ABC had hoped to restructure by April but a delay appointing former Netflix executive Chris Oliver-Taylor to head the content division means it will instead happen on July 1. Senior ABC leaders, including news division head Justin Stevens and Oliver-Taylor, have been meeting with staff over the last month to discuss the changes. They have also been flagging briefings on the ABC’s next five-year plan that contends with a continuing trend of its audiences turning off TVs and radios.

“The ABC is undergoing a watershed moment in its history in how audiences access our journalism,” Stevens wrote in one email seen by this masthead. “In coming months we’ll be briefing you on our next strategy, which will lay out plans for how we stay at the front of digital transformation.”

An ABC spokesman said: “The restructure is an internal ABC matter. When we are ready to share details with employees we will do so.” The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which represents ABC journalists, did not respond to a request for comment.

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