Carthy challenges RTÉ contracts for high-earners at Public Accounts Committee
Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, last week challenged RTÉ at the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on the high wages of a number of its presenters, and the arrangements whereby many high-earners are appointed as contractors rather than direct employees.
RTÉ representatives, including Director General Dee Forbes, were appearing before the Committee, in part, to discuss their implementation of the Eversheds Sutherland report which examines the situation whereby contractors at the station were deemed to have ‘attributes akin to employment.’
The Committee has held a series of engagements investigating the practice, which results in a reduced yield of PRSI to the state. At one recent Committee, a campaigner against the practice told the Committee:
“The failure to collect PRSI is what now has us in a pensions crisis. It is my opinion there is no pensions crisis. There is a failure to collect employers’ PRSI crisis…”
In RTÉ many household names are retained as contractors rather than direct employees. This practice can facilitate tax avoidance and several questions have been raised as to the purpose of such policies.
The engagement went as follows:
Deputy Matt Carthy: “A lot of people will still be surprised to learn that some of the familiar faces they see on their television screens are not direct employees of RTÉ and are, in fact, contractors. Seven of the ten top earners in RTÉ, according to its 2019 reports, were contractors. Will Ms Forbes explain why somebody who essentially works full time for RTÉ would have become a contractor in the first place and the historical basis for it?”
Ms Dee Forbes: “I will say a couple of things on that. It is important to say first of all that those seven contractors Deputy Carthy speaks about are brands in their own right and they also have the ability to earn money outside of RTÉ. They are contracted by RTÉ to provide a particular service for a particular programme on a particular day. They are not full-time employees of RTÉ, and as a result, they are contractors as opposed to being employees. That is how it was deemed. Perhaps Ms Cusack might want to elaborate a bit more.”
Matt Carthy: “Before Ms Cusack comes in, perhaps she could explain whether there is something preventing direct employees of RTÉ having alternative sources of income from promotional activity, working in the local chip shop or whatever else. Is there a differential in that regard?”
Dee Forbes: “The area of additional income that does happen for RTÉ employees is typically book publishing, for example. If a member of staff wants to publish a book, again provided that it is agreed with his or her manager, the person can do that, but it is probably the only area I am aware of where we have done that. Ms Cusack might correct me.”
Matt Carthy: “To clarify, is Ms Forbes saying that those who are directly employed by RTÉ are not allowed to have an alternative source of income other than writing a book?”
Dee Forbes: “What I am saying is that as far as I am aware, they are employed by RTÉ and some of those people have, for example, written a book about their profession or whatever.”
Matt Carthy: “To clarify, is Ms Forbes saying they are not entitled to do any other work outside of RTÉ? What I am trying to do is differentiate between somebody who is employed under a contract and those who are directly employed. Ms Forbes says the latter cannot earn any other money.”
Ms Eimear Cusack: “I will come in there. They would have to seek permission. People cannot just unilaterally have other stuff going on.”
Matt Carthy: “Are contractors given carte blanche to do whatever else they want?”
Eimear Cusack: “They have more freedom to act, but they have a commercial value to RTÉ as well as a commercial value outside of RTÉ.”
Matt Carthy: “We will just deal with the seven top earners in RTÉ who are on contracts. Apart from avoiding some taxes, what is the benefit to them of being on a contract? Considering the implications with pension rights and whatever the case may be, what other benefits do they have that they would not have if they were directly employed?”
Eimear Cusack: “I do not understand. I do not know. I do not know what benefits they have.”
Matt Carthy: “I am trying to get a sense of who wants the contracts. Is it the personalities themselves or is it RTÉ? Who benefits most from a contractual arrangement?”
Dee Forbes: “I think both parties do, because these people are working for us on a particular show and they can also do other things. It also means we can bring in other people if we need or other members of staff can do other things. As Deputy Carthy knows, presenting is demanding and it is not everyone’s cup of tea, so we need to be able to have new voices and new faces when necessary as well. It probably works for both sides.”
Matt Carthy: “When RTÉ is negotiating with presenters, does it deal with them directly or with their representatives or agents?”
Dee Forbes: “It is a mixture.”
Matt Carthy: “How many of the top seven earners would be dealing with the same agent?”
Dee Forbes: “Some of them have the same agent.”
Matt Carthy: “How many?”
Dee Forbes: “I will have to look through the details. I can see two at the moment have the same agent. I think it is two or three.”
Matt Carthy: “We might get clarification on that.”
Following the debate, Deputy Carthy said:
“It is apparent that there has been a systemic cultural issue at RTÉ when it comes to employment status.
“At one end of the spectrum, we have had individuals who are denied their entitled benefits and job security of employment, while we have the highest earners choosing to place themselves in that very same category for what seems to be a mystery to the management of RTÉ”.
Later in the debate, it was also revealed that RTÉ has made an initial payment to the Revenue Commissioners as a result of an ongoing audit, with Deputy Carthy commenting:
“I find it a farcical position that RTÉ would come before the Committee in the full knowledge that they will reveal they have made a payment to the Revenue Commissioners, and not have the details of that payment hand.
“RTÉ are quite able to come before the Oireachtas seeking increased funds through license fees; therefore the public should expect full transparency when they run afoul of the Revenue Commissioners”.