Low morale left RTÉ union members unwilling to bear brunt of cuts

Cantillon: Management will have to try again if it wants staff to share pain of cost-saving plan

Tensions between RTÉ management and the RTÉ Trade Union Group crystallised this week when the latter rejected a package of graduated pay cuts for staff earning €40,000 or more, as well as cuts to other conditions and "legacy" allowances. The cuts were intended as a temporary measure, lasting for two years from May. But such are the levels of mistrust that some of those who voted against the measures will have suspected that, come spring 2023, another financial squeeze would have been cited as a reason not to reverse the cuts.

After all, restoration of pay cuts agreed during the post-crash financial crisis took several years longer than expected – though it must be noted that this restoration did eventually happen and that this was not always the case for media sector workers beyond Montrose.

RTÉ's announcement, then abandonment of cost-saving measures, such as moving Lyric FM out of Limerick or selling the RTÉ Guide, also caused spikes of anger and alarm that have contributed to a "legacy" of low morale. After 13 years without a pay rise, the desire of union members to behave like good turkeys and vote for Christmas was evidently weak. A year of strained working conditions – despite recent remarks by director-general Dee Forbes about maintaining "team spirit and cohesion" during the pandemic – won't have helped.

Executive response

Forbes, who was paid €338,000 in 2019 including €63,000 in pension contributions and a €25,000 car allowance, has stressed that since RTÉ agreed a €60 million three-year cost-saving plan with the Government in late 2019 – in exchange for higher public funding – RTÉ’s executive board has taken a 10 per cent pay cut.

She has also indicated that “top 10” presenter pay has fallen 15 per cent, though a breakdown is yet to be published and in 2016-2019, despite assurances that keeping “star” pay down would remain “an area of focus”, the collective pay bill for this group actually rose from €3 million to €3.2 million.

Union members not earning six digits will have been aware that 122 RTÉ staff – excluding many of the most expensive “star” contractors – were paid more than €100,000 in 2019. They will have remembered that Forbes’s previous “One RTÉ” restructuring plan had the effect of creating a new layer of management in an already top-heavy organisation. And they will have decided that pay cuts beginning at €40,000 – a threshold €20,000 below the average salary at RTÉ – was an ask too far.