‘Painful choices’ ahead for RTÉ as it seeks 250 redundancies

Dee Forbes tells employees broadcaster must become smaller and more efficient

Job losses at RTÉ’s Montrose campus: Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Job losses at RTÉ’s Montrose campus: Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

 

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes has briefed staff on the “painful choices” that lie ahead for the broadcaster as it seeks to reduce employee numbers by about 250 under a voluntary redundancy and early retirement scheme.

The scheme will open for applications next week, when RTÉ said staff would receive full details of the terms of the redundancy packages on offer.

It is expected that staff with at least 10 years at RTÉ will be offered four weeks’ pay per year of service, as well as the statutory entitlement of two weeks’ pay per year. This will be capped at two years’ salary. It is understood that staff with less than 10 years’ service will be offered two weeks’ pay per year of service in addition to statutory redundancy pay.

Ms Forbes said the restructuring of RTÉ would allow it to “evolve” into an organisation better able to serve its audiences.

“There’s no disguising that alongside what I believe is an exciting future, there will also be some painful choices. Our financial situation requires us to reduce costs and employee numbers. We need to become a smaller, more efficient organisation,” she said.

“That will mean that we will lose some colleagues. It will also affect the scope of what we are able to do. Critically, we must ensure that we are investing in the programmes, reporting and content valued by our audiences.”

Staff

RTÉ employed 1,984 people in 2016, up 6 on the year before, its annual report shows. Some 278 of this number were part-time or casual staff.

It is understood it will seek redundancies or early retirements from all parts of the business and will also explore ways to retrain and upskill staff to minimise its contractor costs.

The scheme is part of a broader restructuring of RTÉ first flagged by Ms Forbes in March.

RTÉ completed a rejig of its executive board earlier this week by promoting Adrian Lynch, the controller of RTÉ One and RTÉ2, to the role of director of audience, channels and marketing and hiring Frances Abeton as director of operations and production services.

The roles of managing director of television, radio and digital have all been stood down as part of a plan to centralise all content, with the exception of that produced by the news and current affairs division overseen by Jon Williams.

Former managing director of radio Jim Jennings was in March appointed as director of content, and will work alongside Mr Lynch in the new structure, while former managing director of digital Múirne Laffan has since left RTÉ.

The next layer of management posts is also being restructured, with the creation of new head of genre roles across television, radio and digital. This will result in fewer people with commissioning powers in future.

Comedy and drama, currently the responsibility of two different commissioning executives, will be amalgamated under one group head of comedy and drama.

Group heads of factual, arts and culture, sport, entertainment and music, young people’s programming and Irish language programming will be appointed, while the post of head of Radio 1 will also be retained for the time being and responsibility for acquisitions and co-productions is expected to remain with Dermot Horan.

Separately, RTÉ is also preparing its next five-year strategy, as it is obliged to do by broadcasting legislation.

Deficits

RTÉ has recorded six annual financial deficits in the last eight years, including a loss of €19.7 million in 2016.

Last year, it spent €16.1 million on its coverage of the general election, Euro 2016, the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 1916 centenary celebrations, while other operating costs also rose 7 per cent at a time when licence fee income was static and commercial revenues grew just 2 per cent.

TV3 Group managing director Pat Kiely recently called on RTÉ to “operate to the rules of engagement on public funding” and not overspend in its quest to maximise its audience and advertising revenue.

Ms Forbes told staff on Thursday afternoon that the changes were “important and necessary” for RTÉ.

“Sitting still is not an option in what is a radically changing market, so today marks the start of a period of significant change and transformation at RTÉ and we will be a better organisation for it.”

Ms Forbes, who took up the director-general role in July 2016, said she had grown up with RTÉ and she wanted the organisation to still be around for future generations.