Valerie Cox says ex-RTÉ colleagues concerned about contracts
Former reporter awarded €50,000 after WRC ruling of broadcaster discrimination
Valerie Cox and Sean O Rourke at the launch of her book The Family Courts in 2015. Photograph: Brian McEvoy
Ms Cox, who was awarded €50,000 by the commission, said on Thursday the dispute was solely with senior management at RTÉ and many former colleagues had contacted her.
“Since the judgment, I’ve been inundated with messages from people in RTÉ,” she said. “Not just messages of congratulations, but also people who are concerned about their own contractual situations. RTÉ has a variety of different contracts but they’re going to have to firm everything up now.”
Ms Cox worked with RTÉ for 21 years on programmes including Today with Sean O’Rourke. She had a full-time contract from 2004.
She said her full-time contract was terminated when she turned 65 in March 2016 and she was told she would continue to be placed on the roster for a casual/irregular contract thereafter.
However, she said she was advised by the broadcaster that a period of time must elapse before moving on to the new contract. She spent several months abroad before returning to the Republic when her husband became ill. She was then told in December 2016 the casual contract had also been terminated.
In its judgment, the commission said the broadcaster’s staff handbook provides for working beyond 65 years, “at least in relation to this category of employee”.
It also found RTÉ had not established its compulsory retirement age was objectively justified. And it ruled Ms Cox had been discriminated against on the basis of her age in relation to the termination of her casual/irregular contract.
“It’s a huge victory for older people in this country who are treated so badly. They are the low-hanging fruit,” said Ms Cox. “In my own case, I was really annoyed because one day I was out there covering murders and the next day I was on the scrap heap simply because of my age. We need to judge people on their ability and stop making 65 a barrier to getting on with your life.
“I never looked for compensation or anything. I only looked for my job back, but it just didn’t happen,” she said.
“I had a lovely life with RTÉ. It was a very good employer. I loved my job and was devastated when I had to leave.”
A spokesman for the national broadcaster said it does not comment on individual cases.
Meanwhile, in the Dáil Tánaiste Simon Coveney welcomed the judgment and said he hoped it “sends a signal to the many people who find themselves in similar circumstances to Ms Cox”.
He made a commitment to prioritise legislation to increase the compulsory retirement age from 65 to 70, the initial elements of which were approved last December. And he said he would raise the issue at Cabinet next week.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin, who raised the issue, said “there are people who will miss the deadline and be forced out”.
He alluded to legislation his party had produced in 2014 and said Sinn Féin had also drafted a Bill to deal with the issue.
Mr Howlin said current policy “makes no sense” and he highlighted the case of a driving instructor who was “forced out the door” even though “there is a huge backlog and we are still trying to recruit and train driving instructors”.
Mr Coveney said the Government had approved interim arrangements which would apply to public servants who reach the age of 65 “in the time between the Government decision and the commencement of the necessary legislation”.