RTE forecaster takes unfair dismissal case


Some of RTÉ's most recognisable faces - the stations weather forecasters - are expected to play leading roles in a case for unfair dismissal by one of their colleagues. Ms Joan Blackburn is taking the case against the company.

Mr Gerard Fleming and Ms Evelyn Cusack were in attendance yesterday at the Employment Appeals Tribunal for a preliminary hearing of Ms Blackburn's case, in which she claims RTÉ unfairly dismissed her after several years of loyal service.

She also claims she was regularly criticised by managers in RTÉ. Her colleagues are expected to give evidence during the full hearing, scheduled for mid-July

RTÉ is strongly denying the claims and during yesterday's proceedings said Ms Blackburn was still doing weather bulletins on RTÉ radio and remained on a panel from which future television forecasters could be drawn.

Yesterday's hearing was mainly taken up with argument about whether Ms Blackburn was entitled to take a case to the tribunal.

Counsel for RTÉ, Mr Roddy Horan, claimed that because she was employed by Met Éireann, she was a civil servant and was barred from taking a case. However, the tribunal ruled against this and said the case could go ahead.

Ms Blackburn is expected to be the first person to give evidence, followed by her colleagues. She remains employed as an assistant principal with Met Éireann.

The tribunal was told that Ms Blackburn had not done a televison broadcast since last July, following a review of her performance.

Mr Horan said the review was done to make sure the "required style and standards" were maintained. He said the review found that Ms Blackburn had not reached the required standard.

He said Ms Blackburn was not employed by RTÉ but supplied them with a service, acting as an "independent contractor". He said there was no contract of employment between RTÉ and Ms Blackburn, with RTÉ simply paying her an appearance fee and expenses.

He said Ms Blackburn was released to RTÉ by Met Éireann, which was her true employers. While she had not done television forecasting for some time, this did not mean she could not do it again.

"There has been a termination, but it is not necessarily a permanent state of affairs," he said.

Mr Tom Mallon, for Ms Blackburn, disagreed and said his client got a normal payslip from RTÉ, who deducted PAYE from her in the normal fashion.

Ms Blackburn effectively had a second job with RTÉ and she was entitled to the usual protections as a result. He said Ms Blackburn was not aware of being on any panel and regarded her termination as permanent.