Tuesday 15 October 2019

Comment: The real wage scandal at RTE is the obscene salaries

The pay gap between RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin does not tell the whole story.
The pay gap between RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin does not tell the whole story.
Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Michael O'Doherty

There has been much gnashing and wailing in the past week about the gender pay gap in RTE salaries, prompted by revelations about the disparity in pay between male and female presenters in the BBC.

First Sharon Ni Bheolain, and now Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh have come out to criticise the gap between the sexes at the national broadcaster.

Both of them, of course, have valid points. While there is no excuse for a gap in pay between men and women who do the same job and have the same degree of experience, the storm has provided a smokescreen for a rather bigger issue.

Ni Bheolain is, by her own admission, on about €125,000 a year, for reading the news.

If she is arguing that Bryan Dobson, who earns around €70,000 a year more, should have his salary reduced to her level, that’s all very well.

If she feels, however, that hers should be increased to his level, then we’re encountering a problem – and that problem is the absurd level of entitlement among RTE employees.

The annual report, released last week, reveals an extraordinary statistic. The average RTE employee earns €71,610 a year in salary and pension contributions.

That excludes nearly all the top-earning presenters, who are “independent contractors”. That’s right – every secretary, press officer, camera operator and producer earns nearly twice the average industrial wage in Ireland, which currently stands at €37,000.

Furthermore, their salaries are going up all the time, as RTE pays them back the cuts that were negotiated in 2009 to save the station from disaster, meaning they’ll be on about €75,000 by the end of this year.

So every time you hear Dee Forbes complaining about how difficult it is for RTE to make ends meet, and how desperately they need to increase the lic-ence fee to meet the public service broadcasting obligations, consider where the majority of your money is going – the bloated, obscene payroll costs.

Incredibly, while RTE announces yet another annual deficit and continues to talk about trying to cut costs, it is actually increasing the staff numbers. The 40 or so new staff are “attributable to a need to bring in new skill sets to RTE to continue to meet the changing needs of our audiences”, according to a spokesperson.

What it is actually down to, of course, is RTE’s rank inability to run a business, knowing that one way or another it will always be bailed out by the taxpayer.

Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Returning to Ms Ni Chofaigh, she complained that she has to take in summer students to help pay the bills.

On the basis that she probably earns at least the average wage of €71,000 a year, her difficulty in “making ends meet” will be greeted with something less than the national day of mourning she may be expecting.

The real scandal is not the pay disparity between men and women in RTE.

The real scandal is the disparity in pay between everyone in RTE and everyone else in Ireland.


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