Thursday 14 November 2019

RTE staff will be hit for 'half' of €60m cuts

Broadcaster reveals where axe will fall

DEE FORBES: RTE director general paid €250,000 a year. Picture: David Conachy
DEE FORBES: RTE director general paid €250,000 a year. Picture: David Conachy

Philip Ryan, Niamh Horan and Samantha McCaughren

RTE staff will be forced to bear the brunt of the national broadcaster’s €60m cost-cutting plan, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

In a statement yesterday, RTE said "staff cost reductions" would make up half of the savings measures being introduced to save the cash-strapped broadcaster.

The savings will be found through a combination of pay cuts, salary freezes, an overhaul of allowances and reform of work practices.

The broadcaster said the savings would be found in consultation with RTE union representatives who have already threatened industrial action over the swingeing budget cuts. However, last night an RTE group of unions source said pay cuts were "absolutely a non-runner" as staff "simply cannot afford them".

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"There are people working in RTE who borrow money from their parents to pay for creche fees and nobody who works in RTE can afford to live within an ass's roar of Montrose," the source said.

The union source said the executive board has "no moral authority" to seek pay cuts as staff voluntarily took a cut in 2009 and fully supported the newsroom reforms while management failed to get its budgets in order.

Yesterday, RTE said it will find €10m of savings next year, €20m in 2021 and €30m in 2022.

"Approximately half will be achieved through staff cost reductions, reflective of RTE's overall cost base of which over 50pc is staff related. These staff cost reductions are to be achieved through negotiation/consultation with staff and unions on a number of initiatives, including: a pay freeze, tiered pay reductions, review of benefits and work practice reforms," a spokesperson said

"RTE has announced an overall staff reduction target of 200 based on all changes announced in its revised plan.

"This reduction will be achieved through a combination of staff transferring and departures through a voluntary exit scheme."

It can also be revealed that the broadcaster plans to find significant savings by reviewing its policy on travel and use of taxis. There will also be a major overhaul of procurement policy and RTE will seek to renegotiate non-staff related contracts.

At a meeting in the RTE newsroom last Thursday, staff were also told there were plans to find savings from cuts to mileage rates.

Last week, it was announced that the broadcaster would seek to reduce fees paid to celebrity broadcasters by 15pc.

The executive board will take a 10pc pay cut and the RTE board will waive its fees.

On RTE Radio One yesterday morning, Marian Finucane also told listeners that she would "engage" in talks to take a pay cut to her €300,617 salary for two weekend radio shows.

While interviewing RTE chair Moya Doherty, Ms Finucane said: "I got a call to say that they were going to ask to cut [pay] so I said of course I would engage on that. I just want to get that in."

Ms Doherty noted that RTE's top earners "will now - with this 15pc pay cut and the previous 30pc - have taken an overall 45pc pay cut", which she called "substantial".

Ms Finucane quickly responded: "Yes, but people, I presume, on very, very modest salaries would say 'tough bananas', you know? And somebody made the point that Dee [Forbes's] car allowance is more than some of the staff in here are paid," she added.

Ms Doherty replied: "Em… I don't have that detail, but I do think that we must take this out of the granular.

"The executive will look very closely at the granular and deal with the unions and make all of these incremental changes for the future survival and protection of jobs in the public service media."

Ms Forbes is paid €250,000 a year and also receives a €25,000 car allowance and has pension contributions totalling €63,000.

Asked about recent reports that 200 jobs are going to go at RTE, Ms Doherty said: "I am not at an operational level. The chair and the board do not get involved at an operational level."

But when pressed that she must have knowledge of future plans, she replied: "The management must now start discussion with unions to improve and modernise work practices and make efficiencies."

Ms Doherty also rubbished suggestions there is a "split" between her and RTE director general Dee Forbes.

Ms Doherty appeared to blame the rumour on an "extraordinary" narrative "around two women" being pitted against each other during the crisis at the national broadcaster.

She added that she was "deeply disappointed" to read about alleged tensions between the RTE board and the executive.

"I stood shoulder to shoulder with the director general - as did many of my colleagues - at the staff meeting. Of course there is robust debate," she said. "Of course there are deep and meaningful discussions, but there is no split. We support Dee and her team 100pc."

Asked about the broadcaster's ultimate destination, Ms Doherty said: "Nobody has a crystal ball around destination. The cataclysmic change in the industry globally is quite frightening.

"Right across the media people are losing jobs. It is painful. It is incredibly difficult but we cannot 'not change'. You stand still and you are history."

Ms Doherty said the national broadcaster had been "starved of funding for a long, long time" and that it was imperative the station doesn't "stand back and let Netflix and Sky and all the myriad of others come in and dilute the Irish voice".

However, Ms Finucane said "but they are doing it anyway. The truth is the internet is not new any more", before adding that young people no longer watch television in the way that they did in the past.

Taking one example of RTE's ineffectiveness at staying competitive, the presenter cited her difficulty when using the station's on-demand video service, a crucial tool in the age of modern television.

"I tried three times last night to get something on the Player and it wouldn't work. All I could get were ads, then the ads would finish and then I couldn't get back into the programme," she said.

"That is a huge part of the way in which people are going to look at the product."

Ms Doherty replied: "There is no doubt that has to be improved and it is being improved and it is very much the focus of the DG and the executive to do that."

Although Ms Finucane made it clear that she was not at the station's in-house staff meeting last week, as she is a contractor, she told Ms Doherty that she understood "there was a big lack of confidence in the management and in your good selves… in terms of leadership".

"Well I am sorry to hear that," Ms Doherty replied, adding: "I think the way this story was leaked was shocking."

When asked how it was leaked, the RTE chair said: "I have no idea. A very small number of people had access to that document so I think that it shouldn't be too hard to ask the hard questions. I think it was deeply disrespectful."

To which the host pointed out that - as part of RTE's role as a public service broadcaster - "we operate on leaks".

Sunday Independent

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