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ACM Executive Chairman calls out ‘delusional’ staff ahead of looming journalist strikes

Australian Community Media Executive Chairman Antony Catalano has remained firm against strikes threatened by journalists. Photo: Mumbrella.

By DANIEL LO SURDO

Australian Community Media (ACM) Executive Chairman Antony Catalano has labelled his staff ‘delusional’ after journalists have set the groundwork for a strike. 

Members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) at the Canberra Times, Newcastle Herald and Illawarra Mercury have been in bargaining with ACM management since October last year, after the enterprise agreement expired on 30 June 2020.

Catalano’s staff have responded to their Chairman’s plans to freeze their pay by launching a strike against their employer, with the union demanding pay rises and stipulations to protect current terms and conditions in their contracts.

Catalano said the union had requested a 3 per cent annual pay rise while wishing to retain provisions from ACM’s previous owner Fairfax Media. 

“This log of claims is completely out of touch with reality,” Catalano said. 

“If they want to take strike action they’ll discover the hard way we won’t buckle to claims that threaten the viability of the business and put at risk not just the future of 600 journalists in the organisation but the other 1000 employees across the business.”

Catalano has met with the union on multiple occasions, and while both parties have formed agreements on 25 separate issues, there remains a strong disconnect with the outstanding demands from its journalists. 

“If they want a fight, they’ll get one,” Catalano said. 

Union staying firm 

The union however understood that journalists were deserving of a pay rise after their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic kept readers across their 160 publications informed each day of the coverage. 

MEAA Director Adam Portelli echoed the sentiments of the union. 

“Management has so far refused to commit to any pay rise in 2020 or 2021, and wants to make cuts to agreement conditions which would effectively create a two-tiered workforce,” Portelli said. 

“Members are seeking a dignified agreement – one with fair pay increases which maintains real wages and protects current terms and conditions for all.

“Increasing workload pressures mean members are working harder than ever to deliver for the people of Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle, and these workers simply want a fair deal from ACM management.”

The Fair Work Commission approved on Monday a union request for a ballot to approve the possibility of either a one-day, two-day, or an indefinite strike period for dates that are yet to be decided. 

It is likely that the union is confident that their members will approve the strike ballot, however, it is still uncertain as to whether the strike will occur. 

Catalano, a former chief executive of real estate platform Domain, and businessman Alex Waislitz bought ACM for $115 million in 2019, with each owning a 50 per cent stake in the group. 

ACM declined City Hub’s request for comment on this story. 

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