RTÉ cut leaves staff on ‘knife edge’
Cantillon: Group of unions describes budget cut as ‘source of worry’
The TV control room at RTÉ. Since 2008, RTÉ has reduced its workforce by almost 500, or 21 per cent. Photograph: David Sleator
It’s not exactly what you might call “joined-up Government”. The Department of Social Protection has cut the fee it pays to RTÉ for its administration of the Household Benefits scheme – free licence fees for pensioners – by €5 million. It has done so just as the Department of Communications is trying to increase the amount the broadcaster receives in public money.
A sum of €5 million might not sound like much for RTÉ to absorb, but after years of financial crisis, it’s certainly unhelpful. “In the overall scheme, this may appear a relatively minor cut, but given that RTÉ is currently operating on a knife-edge, any reduction in income has serious implications,” was how the RTÉ group of unions put it yesterday.
“This latest development goes against State policy on public-service broadcasting and is certainly a source of worry for RTÉ employees and their families,” the group added in the kind of trade-union statement that will have the full support of the Montrose boardroom.
But while the group of unions noted that the Minister for Communications “shares our concern”, Pat Rabbitte’s concern may not be precisely the same as theirs. The Minister is trying to lock down RTÉ’s public-service funding, ideally at a higher level than it receives at the moment. His department assumes it can do this by introducing a public-service broadcasting charge that has a more efficient collection method than the current licence fee. He is not against the principle of more operational cuts at RTÉ – indeed, during the summer he asked the broadcaster to find more savings.
Since 2008, RTÉ has reduced its workforce by almost 500, or 21 per cent, implemented pay cuts for those who remained, tackled (to some extent) the star pay issue, closed the expensive London bureau, let Premier League highlights rights go elsewhere, cut costs-per-hour on drama and other programmes, and asked the majority of its staff to work more for less.
Some €125 million has been slashed from its operational costs over the past five years. Bosses will have to look to their creative side for the next €5 million.