independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Telecoms quango pays out €3.7m in staff bonuses

Average windfall last year was €6,000 per person

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte Picture: Frank Mc Grath

Telecoms quango ComReg paid out close to €3.7m in bonuses to its staff over a five-year period. The State body serves as a watchdog for the telecoms and communications sector.

The regulator paid out bonuses of almost €725,000 last year as well as €786,000 in 2012, €786,000 in 2011 and €744,000 in 2010. Another €690,000 in bonus payments were made in 2009. ComReg employed 122 staff when these bonuses were paid in 2013, which works out at an average of almost €6,000 per person.

ComReg, chaired by Kevin O'Brien, is funded by a levy on the telecoms and communications industry, which passes costs on to consumers. Irish customers pay some of the highest mobile-phone bills in Europe. Last year, OECD figures showed that Irish people paid 36 per cent more than the EU average for making calls. Ireland is the fifth most expensive out of 21 countries surveyed by the OECD for a basket of prepaid calls.

ComReg received €57.8m in income in 2012, with its operations costing €21.7m to run. This was largely split between almost €10.5m in payroll costs for its 122 staff and €6.3m in legal and technicals bills. Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte appointed two new ComReg commissioners last year, including former Vodafone top brasser Gerry Fahy and and ex-PA Consulting executive Jeremy Godfrey.

"The commission operates a performance-related remuneration scheme which was originally established by the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. Of the total wages and salaries costs, €786,000 (or 8 per cent) of the total represents payments to staff in accordance with the provisions of the performance related remuneration scheme and the terms of their contracts of employment," according to ComReg, which published its 2012 annual report last week.

"Staff in ComReg are employed on individual contracts. An element of the remuneration of those contracts includes a variable element of pay based on performance. ComReg's Commissioners are not eligible for performance-related pay. Staff in ComReg have been subject to all of the public sector pay cuts," a spokesman told the Sunday Independent last week.

The issue of bonuses for those working across the public sector is becoming increasingly contentious.

Last week it emerged that Irish Water staff were eligible for bonus payments averaging €7,000 each. Irish Water boss John Tierney defended the bonus payment structure when questioned by the Public Accounts Committee. Tierney told the committee almost 300 Irish Water employees have contracts that include incentivised bonuses.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath later questioned how bonuses could be justified when the public sector is enduring pay freezes.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the country could not go back to a bonus culture. She said she was astonished to hear news of Irish Water staff getting bonuses, adding that she felt there was no room for bonuses in the current climate. A government spokesman said it was not government policy to pay bonuses in semi-state companies.

Last year the Sunday Independent revealed that Energy regulator CER had paid bumper bonuses to its staff. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) paid its staff close to €735,000 in bonuses over three years as it oversaw enormous price rises for the ESB and Bord Gais, which contributed to the major spike in the volume of cash-strapped households having their power cut off.

Last December, it emerged that the Government was examining plans to include special performance-based payments for some State workers as part of a new round of public sector reform.

Junior finance minister Brian Hayes said workers in the public sector needed to be "rewarded" if they were found to be making a "huge difference". He indicated that these plans could see some public sector staff paid more than their colleagues on the same grade.

Irish Independent

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