THE issue of the famously high wages of RTé's biggest stars will be discussed at a crisis meeting between unions and management this week as anger grows in the national broadcaster about pay rates for ordinary workers.
Management has requested a summit with staff representatives following a heated meeting earlier this month in which it was revealed that pay cuts introduced last year will not be reversed as had been promised. Some workers claim RTé may not have a legal basis on which to continue the cuts.
However, sources have indicated that, at this stage, any legal challenge to the situation would be on an individual basis rather than at union level.
One thing that is certain is that there is growing resentment towards the significant earning power of RTé's star presenters.
Noting a cap on the incoming director general Noel Curran's salary of €250,000, an aggrieved source said: "The question is whether a presenter's salary should be multiples of the DG's." In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, Pat Kenny earned €951,000, Marian Finucane got €570,000, Ryan Tubridy received €533,000 and Joe Duffy was paid €408,000.
The feeling among rank-and-file staff – a large proportion of the nearly 2,000 employees earn very modest salaries – is that 'big-name' contracts were allowed to mushroom through the boom years.
At a recent staff meeting, the independent adviser Eugene McMahon of Mazars said he was satisfied that significant cuts had already been taken by the higher earners. However, this has done little to calm the storm at Montrose, where many now believe it is time to curb excessive wages.
There is also extreme resentment that much of the anticipated €30m financial loss for 2011 will come about as a result of government intervention – including the restructuring of the licence fee, costs associated with pensions, €10m in support to TG4 and the future provision of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) – and not operational costs.
Staff feel betrayed that in spite of voting to support pay cuts in order to plug the financial hole, the government has made it impossible for management to reinstate previous wage structures.
A spokeswoman for the Trade Union Group (TUG) said: "We are appalled that, having shown leadership by voting for and accepting cuts in salaries, we feel we have been kicked in the teeth by the government. It won't encourage anyone else [in state organisations] to take these cuts."
Further austerity measures will now have to be introduced at the broadcaster, although it is believed that current staffing levels will not be lowered any further, following previous efforts to reduce numbers.
Also, in light of the immediate financial problems, a round of redundancies would prove too financially prohibitive in the short term. Other cost-cutting measures may include the slashing of programme budgets, but nothing has been ruled in or out.
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