Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar refuses to be drawn on RTE salary comparisons

The Irish broadcaster says it will cut 200 jobs next year as part of plans to reduce projected costs by 60 million euro over three years.

(Niall Carson/PA)
(Niall Carson/PA)

By Aine McMahon, PA Ireland

The Irish Premier has refused to be drawn on the issue that some staff at national broadcaster RTE are being paid more money than him.

RTE confirmed it is seeking to cut its workforce by 200 as one of a series of measures to tackle its financial crisis and reduce costs by 60 million euro over the next three years.

Salaries for the 10 highest paid RTE presenters, who mainly work as contractors rather than staff, added up to three million euro in 2016.

Mr Varadkar is paid 200,000 euro per year.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the media (Niall Carson/PA)

Speaking at an event in Dublin on Thursday, he said he was not going to comment on salaries of RTE staff compared to his.

“I’m not going to get into about issues about what other people are paid or not. There are lots of people in RTE who don’t earn big salaries and are working very hard for the money they make,” he said.

“The issues in RTE do need to be resolved and there’s a plan that’s now being put forward by management and by the boards and that will need to be considered.

“RTE is now recording very significant deficit so this is about much more than the TV licence and government funding.

“The Government can come to the table and yes we can contribute to the solution, but there won’t be a solution without RTE itself modernising and reforming.”

He said the TV licence could be replaced with a broadcast tax that could be collected by Revenue, but that would require legislation and it would take too long to address RTE’s funding deficit.

He said: “If revenue were to collect it (TV licence), then we would have to make it a tax. That’s the kind of thing  we could do but it’s not going to be done in the next year.”

“And that’s why the solution, at least in the medium term to these problems is going to involve a degree of restructuring and getting their costs down because the costs have gone up considerably in recent years.”

The plan by RTE to cut jobs was leaked to a newspaper on Wednesday night and was meant to be presented by management later this week – following the death of RTE stalwart Gay Byrne, whose funeral takes place on Friday.

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Gay Byrne (Brian Lawless/PA)

The plan, sent to staff at 10.30pm on Wednesday, said RTE will reduce fees paid to contracted on-air presenters by 15%.

It said it would consult staff and unions on a number of initiatives, including a pay freeze and tiered pay reductions for existing staff.

RTE director general Dee Forbes receives a salary of 250,000 euro, a 25,000-euro car allowance and pension contributions of 63,000 euro – bringing her total package to 338,000.

Speaking to RTE radio on Thursday morning, Business Minister Heather Humphreys said her sympathies are with those who may lose their jobs in RTE, but the business model needs to be addressed if it is to be sustainable.

RTE have to look at their business model and how they operate and how they transform to meet the digital environment Heather Humphreys

“At the moment there are workers in RTE who are paid more than the Taoiseach, UK Prime Minister and the president of America. That would not appear to be sustainable into the future so RTE need to be like any business and cut their cloth to suit their measure,” she said.

“RTE have to look at their business model and how they operate and how they transform to meet the digital environment.

“If businesses came every time they ran into trouble, looking to be bailed out by the taxpayer, then that would not be a satisfactory solution.”

Ms Humphreys said the Government has been looking at reforming the TV licence fee collection system, a critical stream of funding for RTE, which has a 14% evasion rate.

“RTE deserves to be funded as it is a public service but they need to look at their business model,” she said.

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Heather Humphreys (Brian Lawless/PA)

Speaking at a Future Jobs conference on the future of work, Ms Humphreys reiterated that high salaries for some RTE staff are not viable at a time when it is in turmoil.

“RTE needs to look at the future as we are doing here today. We are asking businesses how are they going to manage with technology and they way we are going to have to live and work in the future.

“RTE has a system where they want to attract various presenters and they have to decide themselves if that model is viable into the future. RTE need to ask themselves if that model is viable – I don’t personally think it is viable and it is something they will have to look at.

“I am saying to businesses every day of the week, you have to look at your costs, your bottom line and your competitiveness and your productivity, so there is a whole range of issues they need to look at.”

Announcing the measures on Wednesday night, Ms Forbes said: “The challenges in front of us are real. But RTE does have a plan, which we are confident can address many of the challenges we face and bring Ireland’s national public broadcaster to stability.

“I am clear about what role RTE should play in Irish life, but I am also clear that we cannot do it unless Government fixes the TV licence system.

“We shouldn’t be under any illusions: we are in a fight – a fight to sustain a viable public media in Ireland.”

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Moya Doherty (Niall Carson/PA)

The chairwoman of the RTE board, Moya Doherty, said: “At the outset I wish to express my deep unhappiness at the leak of details of RTE’s imminent change process, at a most sensitive time for the organisation.

“I would also like to point out, in the clearest possible terms, that the board of RTE fully supports the executive of RTE as it sets out to implement what will be a challenging but necessary process of transformation.”

RTE unions are meeting management at the station to discuss the proposed job cuts and changes.

The National Union of Journalists said on Wednesday night: “At a meeting last week, NUJ journalists strongly criticised the way RTE management’s financial plans were being drip-fed to newspapers before staff could be consulted.

“Again tonight, we were dismayed to read in the print media details of RTE proposals that refer directly to our livelihoods, our futures and the security of our jobs.

“There has been no consultation. NUJ members will robustly defend both public service broadcasting in this country and also our rights to fair treatment as workers.”

There are 1,822 staff in RTE, 250 of whom are part-time.

The most recent accounts show that staff costs amounted to 148.5 million euro, with a further 34.9 million euro being paid to contractors or high-ranking presenters.

PA

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