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Emma O'Kelly RTE NUJ representative at a NUJ rally in July. Alamy Stock Photo

Emma O'Kelly on RTÉ's new strategy: 'If that's modernising well, it's a modernising I don't agree with'

Staff are concerned that RTÉ’s new plan will promote a ‘gig economy’ and ultimately harm the creative sector.

RTÉ’S NATIONAL UNION of Journalists representative Emma O’Kelly has criticised the national broadcaster’s new strategic vision, saying that workers are ‘paying the price for poor corporate governance and lack of political direction’.

While O’Kelly acknowledged there was “some good stuff” in the document, she told The Journal that it will promote a ‘gig economy’ and ultimately harm the creative sector.

The plan, called “A new direction for RTÉ”, outlines how RTÉ will become “a more streamlined, modern and simpler organisation, with fewer employees, reduced overheads and updated technology”.

Responding to the plan, O’Kelly took issue with the use of “euphemisms” used, adding: “We really feel that there needs to be change and there’s some good stuff in the document but there’s a lot of bad stuff as well.

“It’s what kind of change do you want? And there’s a lot of there are a lot of euphemisms, being used, like ‘modernise’, you know, ‘Make [RTÉ] a smaller organization’ and things like that.

“Like, I don’t know why? Where does this come from?

“What they’re talking about in that regard is losing four hundreds jobs that are stable, provide good employment to young people [...] and privatising a lot of what we do currently with with properly paid jobs with proper terms and conditions,” she added.

If that’s modernising well, it’s a modernizing that I don’t agree with.”

Bakhurst assured staff that the 400 job losses will be fairly dispersed across different areas of the organisation, and will not fall unfairly on production staff, it is understood.

He also reassured staff that that there is no plan to close entire departments in RTÉ, and said the plan is to let people take redundancy gradually.

O’Kelly added: “If you look at the creative sector in generally – across arts, entertainment, the Irish language – what it means is there will be 400 fewer jobs. Real jobs with pensions with pay, with security.

“There will be 400 fewer jobs and the work that those people are doing will be done instead in the gig economy by people who don’t have any of that security.”

Séamus Dooley, the National Union of Journalists’ Irish secretary said the organisation are “gravely concerned” at the scale of the proposed redundancies but welcomed Bakhurst’s assurance that there will be no compulsory redundancies

Speaking to reporters this evening on RTÉ’s Donnybrook campus, Bakhurst said that he has no problem with outsourcing to the independent sector and said that the job cuts will be transparent, voluntary and fair.

“Change does bring uncertainty and effects on life and I’m trying to give staff the reassurance and the engagement they need to minimise that uncertainty and make sure they can engage with the process.”

IMG_5492 RTÉ's director general Kevin Backhurst addressing reporters on the broadcaster's Donnybrook campus in Dublin this evening. MAIREAD MAGUIRE / THE JOURNAL MAIREAD MAGUIRE / THE JOURNAL / THE JOURNAL

The organisation Screen Producers Ireland welcomed RTÉ’s plans to spend more in the independent sector, as its CEO Susan Kirby, said that there now needs to be a reform of the license fee collection system to ensure RTÉ can access the level of public funding it needs to carry out this new strategy.

It’s understood that Bakhurst told staff at the meeting this afternoon: “No one will earn more than the director general. That is a commitment we are going to make.”

The director general makes €250,000 per annum. RTÉ staff who already make in excess of this will not have their salary cut overnight. The rule will only apply to any new contracts.

O’Kelly said the reduction is welcomed by most staff, but highlighted that the NUJ had called for salaries to be capped to the top civil servant salary in 2019.

“So, that might be a little bit higher than that  – but in terms of a general stance; Yes, we would welcome that,” O’Kelly said.

‘All the good stuff needs investment’

The plan, published this afternoon, states that the workforce at the broadcaster will be cut by 20% – or 400 people – over the next five years.

An “initial and limited” voluntary exit programme will be run to cut 40 positions. This will be funded by the sale of land on the Donnybrook campus in 2017.

Staff reductions will take place through a combination of normal attrition and retirements and a voluntary exit scheme, which will aim to particularly reduce the number of staff paid over €100,000.

However, targeted recruitment will continue at the broadcaster “to ensure we have the additional skills required for a digitally transformed RTÉ”.

It’s understood staff were told that selling Donnybrook is not being considered, and that instead RTÉ management plans to remain at the site, but to “shrink back” its current facilities, and invest in them to modernise them.

rte-director-general-kevin-bakhurst-left-meeting-emma-okelly-holding-megaphone-rte-nuj-representative-as-union-members-stage-a-rally-over-funding-of-public-service-broadcasting-at-rtes-donnybr RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst (left) meeting Emma O'Kelly, RTE NUJ representative in July. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

O’Kelly said: “All the good stuff in this document, needs investment. And are we going to get that?

“We’ve already learned that none of this new stuff is going to happen for a year because 2024 is only going to be about cuts, it’s going to be about saving 10 million,” she added.

O’Kelly welcomed the plan’s intentions to expand the broadcaster’s campus in Cork, allowing more employees to work from counties such as Limerick and Galway, and investing in digital infrastructure.

However, similar to the salary caps, O’Kelly says these investments are “madly overdue”.

‘A welcome reprieve’

Séamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary, said the announcement by government today to fund RTÉ for next year, through a €56 million bailout, was “a welcome reprieve”.

Dooley added that the government needs to expedite proposals for long term funding of public service broadcasting in Ireland. 

“Against the backdrop of an investigation into the last Voluntary Redundancy Programme, staff will be very sceptical about a new programme,” Dooley said.

“Staff want to see evidence of a genuine, sustainable long term plan based on clearly defined objectives.

It is vital the government provides clarity on long term funding for public service broadcasting.”

“To date there has not been a sense of urgency and RTÉ workers are now being asked to pay the price for poor corporate governance and lack of political direction,” he added.

O’Kelly said there was a need for the funding in order to maintain Irish public service broadcasting and too welcomed the government’s bailout announcement.

O’Kelly added the outcomes of today’s strategy announcement were what the group expected.

“We knew this would be about cutting jobs in RTÉ and privatising,” she said.

“People have been saying to me: ‘Oh, things have gone very quiet in RTÉ,’ and whenever anybody said that to me, I felt: ‘Yeah, but it’s the silence. It’s like the silence in Jaws,’.”

“It’s quiet, but you know, the shark is under the boat. Today, we saw the shark we know what size it is. So I suppose that’s something.”

Includes reporting by Christina Finn

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Muiris O'Cearbhaill & Mairead Maguire
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