Questions linger over RTÉ employment practices

05 July 2023

Labour arts, media and workers’ rights spokesperson Marie Sherlock has called on RTÉ to outline why it believes many of its presenters who make use of personal service companies are contractors rather than employees.

Senator Sherlock said:

“The payments scandal surrounding RTÉ’s top paid presenter Ryan Tubridy has blown the lid on a range of unsatisfactory employment practices at the national broadcaster. There are serious questions about how RTÉ treats the vast majority of its workers relative to the very small number who earn very high sums.

“RTÉ commissioned an independent review in 2018, from Eversheds, of the employment status of 433 contractors. The report found that 106 contractors had “attributes akin to employment”. This lead to 81 of those workers being offered full-time contracts with RTÉ, of which 79 were accepted.

“The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection then commenced its own investigation in late 2020, following Eversheds findings. The scope of this review was broader, dealing with more than 500 employees.

“The fallout led to RTÉ reaching a €1.22m tax settlement with Revenue in 2021, with the Department of Social Protection instigating an investigation for suspected non-payment of PRSI.

“It is reported that around 80 former RTÉ contractors sought retrospective payments including holidays and other entitlements.

“By last year, RTÉ had committed to reimbursing four years’ retrospective social insurance contributions to misclassified workers. It had also appealed a number of individual decisions.

“Claims regarding employment status have also come before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

“Last year RTÉ was ordered by the WRC to pay €47,000 in damages to two female researchers who worked on the Today Show, following a determination that they were incorrectly classified as independent contract researchers and should have instead been classified as employees under a fixed-term contract of service.

“It is against this backdrop that the Ryan Tubridy contract – and the other ‘talent’ contracts – must now be examined. RTÉ has plenty of history with this issue.

“It is Labour’s belief that the top 10 earners, or ‘talent’, or those who make use of personal service companies, should no longer fall into a separate category other than employees of RTÉ.

“Let’s look at the reality of these people’s employment using Ryan Tubridy as an example.

“Tubridy was required to work under RTÉ’s instructions, including editorial instructions and had no control over programme content or staffing or other resources.

“He was restricted in terms of any other broadcasting, advertising or promotional activities. In his contract it clearly states that the Director General’s decision as editor in chief in relation to the compatibility of any proposed extramural activities with his obligation to RTÉ is final.

“Essentially, in our view the Tubridy personal service company is window-dressing.

“Given RTÉ’s well-known and serious problems with misclassifying its employees as talent, huge questions emerge now about the long-term sustainability of treating ‘talent’ as a separate category of worker. We would ask RTÉ to provide clarity on the matter.”

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