RTÉ to seek 70 voluntary redundancies as ‘large costs’ beckon in 2021

Dee Forbes tells staff exit scheme will reopen in January to close ‘persistent’ funding gap

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes: broadcaster is not financially secure, she told staff. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes: broadcaster is not financially secure, she told staff. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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RTÉ will seek 60-70 redundancies when it reopens its voluntary exit scheme in January, director-general Dee Forbes has told staff. The broadcaster will accept applications for redundancy from January 11th as part of a plan agreed with the Government to cut costs by €60 million between 2020 and 2023.

Ms Forbes advised employees late last week that RTÉ was “on track” to meet its cost reduction targets for 2020, “but must now begin planning a series of initiatives” to cope with a “persistent gap” between costs and income in the years ahead.

Separately, 73 employees of the National Symphony Orchestra are expected to leave RTÉ next year when responsibility for the orchestra shifts to the National Concert Hall, with the Government allocating €8 million in Budget 2021 to cover the costs of this move.

The reopening of the redundancy scheme had long been anticipated at Montrose after the State-owned broadcaster said almost a year ago that it would seek to reduce its headcount by about 200 people, with the NSO transfer accounting for a “big portion” of this target.

The terms of the redundancy agreement are expected to be in line with a previous deal that saw staff with at least 10 years’ service offered four weeks’ pay per year of service, plus the statutory entitlement of two weeks’ pay per year, and staff with less than 10 years’ service offered two weeks’ pay per year in addition to statutory entitlements. In both cases, the exit package was capped at two years’ salary.

RTÉ spent the final months of 2019 embroiled in talks with the government about how it should stabilise its finances after a string of annual deficits. The government eventually agreed in December to increase its funding by about €9 million a year, but this still left a shortfall to be met through cost cuts.

Negotiations between management and the RTÉ trade union group on cost-savings proposals related to pay, benefits, allowances and work practice reforms were paused in March due to Covid-19, but are now set to resume “as soon as is practical”, Ms Forbes indicated.

She also confirmed RTÉ would abide by the recommendation of its internal industrial relations tribunal, which last week found that RTÉ was wrong to unilaterally freeze incremental pay rises in March and should resume backdated payments to affected staff immediately.

2021 warning

Covid-19 has “impacted hugely” on RTÉ’s finances, the director-general said. The broadcaster availed of the State’s temporary Covid-19 wage subsidy scheme (TWSS) after advertising income abruptly plunged and said in April that revenues could drop 25-35 per cent in 2020, though it recently signalled that the outlook had improved since its worst fears at the onset of the crisis.

However, it has partly achieved its “much better position” because high-cost sports events such as Euro 2020 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed. These “large costs” are now set to return in 2021 at a time when Government wage supports will not be available to RTÉ, but market uncertainty due to both Covid-19 and Brexit will remain, Ms Forbes warned.

“While we have managed our finances through the pandemic well so far, this does not mean we are financially secure,” she wrote in her letter to about 1,800 employees.

The newly configured Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media has yet to publish RTÉ’s annual report for 2019, but it is likely to show further pressures on its finances, reflecting the longer-term challenges in the television advertising market.

Ms Forbes also restated RTÉ’s position that licence fee reform is urgently needed for it to sustain its output and fulfil its public service remit in the future.

“If Government does not fix the TV licence system, RTÉ cannot return to a stable financial position, or make the investments we need to make in technology and programming,” she added.