RTE staff stunned as ‘second tier’ stars take a 30pc pay cut
EMBATTLED broadcaster RTE dropped a bombshell on staff last night by introducing some of the most swingeing cuts in its history as it attempts to save €25m.
Director General Noel Curran said the station's operating deficit was set to hit €20m by the end of the year. He described this as "not sustainable".
Mr Curran then unveiled a series of tough measures to reduce costs, including:
- Savings of €15m through another staff voluntary-severance scheme.
- The 30 pc salary cut which previously the top ten stars will now be extended to the stations’s top 20 earners including Sean O’Rourke, Kathryn Thomas, Grainne Seoige and Charlie Bird.
- Significant cuts of 25pc in the amount to be paid out in sports rights by the end of next year.
- A minimum 10pc cut in the amount of money being paid out to buy foreign shows.
- The closure of RTE's London bureau.
The planned staff costs cuts of €15m over the next two years would be the equivalent of more than 200 redundancies, although the numbers could be mitigated by savings in allowances, shift payments and overtime.
RTE has already lost 190 staff in a first round of redundancies, which was completed last year. Another round could reduce the numbers working at RTE to 1,750, from a peak of 2,900 during the boom period.
Both the National Union of Journalists and the Trade Union Group expressed dismay at the decision to close the London offices and RTE's Millbank studio. The five staff in London will be offered relocation.
The station has refused to reveal the names of the 'second tier' of talent who will be affected by the pay cuts. However, a number of high-profile journalists in the newsroom are believed to be among the group.
Having already cut the fees of its top 10 presenters by 30pc, the station confirmed that presenters in the rest of the top 20 have endured the same cut when having their contracts renewed over the past six months.
"We have made clear our plan for targeted reductions in top talent fees by the end of 2013," Mr Curran said. "I can confirm that we are on target for in excess of a 30pc reduction relative to the 2008 figures.
"Most contract discussions will in fact be completed by the end of the current year. We would like to acknowledge the commitment of all of these contracted presenters to our programme schedules."
Mr Curran added that the station plans to eliminate the operating deficit that has existed since 2008 but will reduce costs even further so that there is money available for investment and modernisation.
He insisted that output in 'core priority areas' would be protected but the slashing of budgets is set to impact on the quality of programming.
RTE has taken €80m out of its budgets since 2008. It was on target for a €5m loss by the end of 2010 but was forced to cut again when changes were made in the 2011 budget which took an estimated €20m out of the budget.
Management sources say they are projecting a deficit of between €17m and €22m this year. However, industry sources said the most significant aspect to Mr Curran's statement was RTE stating its intention to open new work-practice negotiations.
One station insider said this related to areas including studios in RTE where, under existing arrangements with unions, staff were paid overtime for overruns and strictly adhered to breaks. The station said that all change would be through negotiation.
But RTE unions said last night said there had been "no negotiations" to close down the London office and that they were "extremely concerned" by Mr Curran's statement.
In an email to members, Mary Curtin, secretary of the RTE trade union group, said unions would "work to ensure any changes to existing agreements are achieved through the normal industrial relations procedures and that the level of service provided is maintained to the highest standards."