Thursday 5 December 2019

'A terrible betrayal' - RTE top earners furious after colleagues call for them to take pay cut

  

RTÉ’s headquarters at Montrose. Photo: Colin Keegan
RTÉ’s headquarters at Montrose. Photo: Colin Keegan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A major divide has opened up in RTÉ after a small gathering of journalists called for the station’s top earners to take considerable pay cuts.

Massive tensions have developed at the broadcaster amid claims that household names like Ryan Tubridy and Joe Duffy have been “thrown to the wolves”.

A motion passed by around 30 National Union of Journalist (NUJ) members last week described the salaries of the station’s key presenters as “indefensible”. It called on RTÉ management to “immediately” reduce the fees paid to presenters so that nobody would earn more than the top civil service salary of €207,590.

A number of well-placed sources have told the Irish Independent over recent days that the move has led to ructions in Montrose.

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“It’s a terrible betrayal,” said one, who added that the motion was driven by “populism and panic”.

Another described the atmosphere as “warlike” because those targeted are expected to work side by side with colleagues who see them as overpaid.

One presenter said: “The top 10 are also, as you know, just 1pc of the cost of RTÉ yet we are getting all the attack.”

Earlier this month RTÉ unveiled a restructuring plan aimed at saving €60m over three years.

The proposal includes pay freezes and the closure of its Limerick studio.

The top 10 earners, who are paid a cumulative total of €3m, are to take 15pc pay cuts. Their salaries currently range from €185,679 a year to €495,000.

However, a sub branch of the NUJ passed the motion calling for much deeper cuts to the "exorbitant salaries".

"We understand the public anger at this and believe that that anger is justified," the motion, which was put forward by education correspondent Emma O'Kelly and journalist Paul Murphy, said.

The wording was not circulated to members in advance of the meeting, which was attended by around 30 journalists. There are in the region of 300 NUJ members in RTÉ.

Sources claimed some members of the NUJ who had an issue with the motion were "shouted down".

Details of the meeting were then circulated to the media, and reported on by RTÉ News, without input from NUJ headquarters.

The head of the NUJ in Ireland, Seamus Dooley, told the Irish Independent he was not informed about the meeting in advance.

"Having a meeting without the senior industrial officials responsible was ill-advised and I've been assured it was an oversight. I've taken measures to make sure it won't happen again," he said.

"On return from leave, I can confirm that I have received expressions of concern from some members. I will be discussing those concerns with the officers of the local branch and the Dublin Broadcasting Branch."

Mr Dooley said the motion reflected "a deep sense of frustration among members at a number of issues within RTÉ".

A number of RTÉ stars are NUJ members and there is a belief that union rules have been breached. The organisation's rulebook states that members are expected to treat other members with "consideration and respect and not to take action which threatens their livelihoods and/or working conditions".

The NUJ also has a long- standing position of opposing mandatory pay cuts.

The €207,590 pay cap chosen reflects the top of the pay scale for the most senior civil servants - secretaries general. However, some staff believe that comparable salary scales in the commercial semi-states, rather than public sector, would have been more relevant.

An argument has also been put forward that RTÉ contractors and staff "are not in the same league" as civil servants.

"RTÉ couldn't afford to pay us like civil servants. Most people would jump at that," said one source. Another argued that contractors have no pension or sick leave.

The top RTÉ earners are Ryan Tubridy, Ray D'Arcy, Joe Duffy, Seán O'Rourke, Marian Finucane, Miriam O'Callaghan, Claire Byrne, Bryan Dobson, George Hamilton and Mary Wilson.

Irish Independent

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