Department’s review of RTÉ contractors may extend to 500-plus people

Investigation by Scope unit into employment status at Montrose follows Revenue audit

RTÉ “continues to engage in due process” as Department of Social Protection reviews the status of many of its  contractors. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

RTÉ “continues to engage in due process” as Department of Social Protection reviews the status of many of its contractors. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

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The Department of Social Protection has suggested that the employment records of more than 500 current and former RTÉ contractors “may need to be investigated” to see if PRSI contributions should have been paid.

In a briefing note for senior officials in mid-July, the department said it was “conscious of the resource-intensive nature” that these individual investigations – which could involve detailed interviews with the affected people – would have for both the department and RTÉ.

The note said the department was “open to exploring ways of optimising the resources of both organisations”, as long as the employment record of each individual was still checked and the rights of individuals and RTÉ were not infringed.

RTÉ and the Department of Social Protection both declined to comment further on the process.

Scope, the department’s investigation unit, has already studied the cases of 28 contractors and told RTÉ that 11 of these should have been in insurable employment.

Its review of the employment status of RTÉ contractors follows a previous investigation initiated by RTÉ itself.

Hiring ‘inconsistencies’

The 2018 assessment by law firm Eversheds Sutherland found “inconsistencies” in RTÉ hiring practices for certain roles, with some people treated as staff and others as contractors – echoing a phenomenon known as “bogus self-employment”.

The Eversheds study of some 433 contractors found that 106 people were found to have “attributes akin to employment” and a further 51 contractors had “attributes akin to both employment and self-employment” and RTÉ agreed to review their status.

It later offered permanent contracts to 82 people, with 79 accepting.

On Tuesday, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said RTÉ had yet to engage with trade unions regarding individuals who were wrongly classified as self-employed and who were denied a range of rights such as sick pay, maternity pay and the right to compete for promotion posts.

The union said the broadcaster was refusing to engage with it on the issue while the Department of Social Protection process was under way.

Revenue settlement

In April, RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes denied that RTÉ was “a bogus employer” when the subject arose at a hearing of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The broadcaster subsequently disclosed to the PAC in writing that it made an interim voluntary payment of €1.22 million to the Revenue Commissioners as a result of a Revenue audit. This audit has since concluded, with the Revenue accepting the payment to settle liabilities arising from cases where individuals were incorrectly treated as contractors.

RTÉ said it could not comment as the department’s Scope audit was ongoing: “RTÉ continues to engage in due process with the department and cannot comment further until this has concluded.”

The department said its review “has progressed with the full co-operation of RTÉ and the former and current contractors” and that it did not comment on ongoing investigations.

“Any party to a decision on the determination of employment status may seek a review by the Social Welfare Appeals Office,” it added.

At the PAC hearing in April, RTÉ head of human resources Eimear Cusack said the question of any retrospective payments that might be owed as a result of employment misclassifications would not be resolved until both the Revenue and the department’s reviews were completed.