Oireachtas broadcast ‘casual staff’ lose jobs every summer

‘Not good enough’ for State employer to treat people in ‘insignificant manner’, says Doherty

Leinster House authorities are to be asked to survey all so-called casual staff in the Houses of the Oireachtas after it emerged employees who film the proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad lose their jobs every summer.

Some 14 employees in the Oireachtas broadcasting unit are let go when the two Houses go into recess, for two months this year.

Seanad leader Regina Doherty said: "it is not good enough that an employer of the State, and that's exactly what we are in these Houses, treats people in such an insignificant manner".

She will ask the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct a survey of all of “what they would call casual staff” because “we rely on them absolutely, day in and day out”.

Ms Doherty, former minister for social protection, pointed out a similar survey was conducted in RTÉ where a “tremendous amount” of people deemed as self-employed contractors were in fact employees and retrospective contracts and employment rights had to be awarded, and PRSI and tax liabilities had to be paid as a consequence.

The Fine Gael Senator was responding to Sinn Féin's Paul Gavan who said "the idea that we have people on precarious contracts working in this building is completely unacceptable".

Raising the issue in the Upper House Mr Gavan said colleagues may not be aware of this but “the people who film us every day . . . lose their jobs every summer”.

Mr Gavan, a former Siptu organiser, said: “they don’t have permanent jobs. They’re let go and re-hired again, and that’s something we have to address”.

It is understood the Oireachtas employees includes six core contract operators who film in Leinster House and the Convention Centre along with up to eight casual staff who are employed when the committees are in operation. They are camera and sound operators, graphic operators and directors and a number have been there over a three-decade period.

Mr Gavan said in a statement later these people “deserve much more from the State and from well-paid politicians whom they film throughout the year.

“These workers see these summer breaks as incredibly difficult where they either have to source more part-time work or sign on the dole. During election periods they are also out of work.

“This can decimate these workers’ annual income. They also earn less than other workers in the external television industry. Workers on precarious contracts in the parliament of this state is not acceptable.”

Ms Doherty said recording staff had only contacted her in the last week and outlined the experience with the national broadcaster.

“We as a State worked with RTÉ as a State operator in the last number of years and conducted an internal audit of all their staff going back for decades. And a tremendous amount of those people who were independently employed in RTÉ had to be given retrospective contracts, retrospective employment rights,” she said.

“Retrospective PRSI and tax liabilities had to be paid to the State on behalf of RTÉ for some significant amount of employers who were actually deemed not to be self-employed contractors but actually employees of RTÉ.”

Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said she was "shocked to hear about the broadcast unit". The former Siptu head of equality and policy said "it's unacceptable that there are workers in this House who effectively do not have employment when this House is not sitting."

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times