Bogus self-employment goes well beyond RTÉ

Montrose review confirms unions’ position on bad practice in arts and media sectors

RTÉ’s transmission mast at its Montrose campus. Bogus self-employment is not limited to the broadcaster, unions say. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

RTÉ’s transmission mast at its Montrose campus. Bogus self-employment is not limited to the broadcaster, unions say. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The finding in an independent review by law firm Eversheds Sutherland that 106 contractors for RTÉ had “attributes akin to employment” has confirmed what many people working in the media already know from experience: the exploitation of workers through bogus self-employment is an unpleasant facet of the sector.

RTÉ has now agreed to perform individual reviews of contractors’ employment status and although it stopped short of saying this was with a view to staffing those individuals who should have been staffed all along, this seems set to be the likely outcome in many cases. The RTÉ trade union group has made clear that the wrongs should be righted as soon as possible.

But as the RTÉ trade union group, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) have all pointed out, the phenomenon of rights-denying bogus self-employment is scarcely unique to RTÉ.

Unions now want RTÉ’s promise to implement the recommendations of the Eversheds Sutherland review to “set an example for other organisations” in the media, arts and culture sectors who have sought to circumvent workers’ rights.

The NUJ’s Séamus Dooley called on the Department of Social Protection to consider carrying out a sectoral review, as there were “strong grounds to suspect there are also significant problems” elsewhere.

A further 51 contractors at RTÉ were found to be doing work in a way that had attributes of both self-employment and employment and their cases, too, will be reviewed by RTÉ after the initial 106.

The question of employment status is not without its grey areas, and as Ictu general secretary Patricia King acknowledged, there will always be a need for genuine freelance workers. However, it is not the occasional grey area, or the odd “misclassification”, that creates such widespread bogus self-employment. It is deliberate strategy.

The pressure on people to work without rights, without security and sometimes without payment at all is not only a stain on the creative industries, it is a practice that increasingly reclassifies work in those industries as a hobby that only the rich can afford.