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RTE unions forced into cutbacks to pay for rises

RTE unions will have to agree to widespread cost-cutting if more than 600 workers are to get pay rises worth an average of more than €1,000 each.

The national broadcaster, which faces a shortfall of €30m this year, was the only State body to introduce a freeze on annual increments.

Montrose unions had agreed to the suspension of increments for a 12-month period between 2009 and 2010 but that pact ended on December 31. An internal industrial relations tribunal ruled that increments be reinstated and backdated to last January. But the Sunday Independent has learned that RTE management will resist making the payments, worth €800,000, unless unions agree to similar levels of cost-cutting so the pay rise will be "cost neutral" -- a recommendation included in the industrial relations tribunal finding.

These savings will be in addition to the 75 redundancies being sought.

It has also emerged that the station's most senior contracted stars will face pay cuts by the end of 2013 in excess of 30 per cent compared with their pay in 2008.

There is considerable disquiet in the Government about public-sector pay increases and dismay about the 3.5 per cent pay increase to Bord na Mona workers recommended by the Labour Court. More than 1,100 Bord na Mona workers could receive as much as €5m in backdated pay and a further €2.4m this year after unions won their claim centred on the implementation of the National Pay Agreement.

RTE director general Noel Curran revealed in an article he wrote in the Irish Times last week that pay cuts will be introduced to the highest-paid stars in RTE.

The big-name stars affected by the planned cut in salaries had been informed by Mr Curran that there would be "public comment" on their wages before the article was published.

Mr Curran wrote that RTE was faced not only with severe shrinkage in its commercial income but with a serial erosion of its public funding base.

"When recession bit, the fall-off in broadcast advertising in Ireland was the most extreme in Europe. RTE experienced a sudden loss of €70m in annual commercial revenues from mid-2008. We responded by rapidly cutting costs. The cuts in pay volunteered by staff were the first in the public sector. In 18 months we cut €82m, or 17 per cent of our cost base. Staff numbers reduced by 200, or nearly nine per cent, over two years," Mr Curran said.

In relation to the big earners at the station Mr Curran said: "In 2009, an undertaking was given to reduce significantly the fee levels applying to the top 10 earners as contracts came up for renewal. RTE intends that by the time all of the existing contracts have been revisited, by end-2013, the payments total will have reduced by in excess of 30 per cent relative to the 2008 levels."

A cut in pay of 30 per cent would see Pat Kenny's salary drop from its 2008 level of €950,976 to €665,683 by 2013.

Kenny was the highest earner in 2008 but relinquished that status when he finished presenting the Late Late Show. The other top earners based on 2008 figures were Marian Finucane, €570,000; Joe Duffy, €408,000; Eamon Dunphy, €328,000; Miriam O'Callaghan, €301,000; Derek Mooney, €286,000; George Hamilton, €219,000; and Sean O'Rourke, €218,000.

Meanwhile, RTE Radio yesterday confirmed that Claire Byrne will be the presenter of The Marian Finucane Show for the eight weeks in July and August.

Sunday Independent