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'I was devastated': Former reporter on RTÉ ending her freelance contract on age grounds

RTÉ has been ordered by the Workplace Relations Commission to pay Valerie Cox €50,000.

Valerie Cox
Valerie Cox
Image: Valerie Cox via Twitter

FORMER RTÉ REPORTER Valerie Cox has said she was devastated that the broadcaster ended her freelance contract when she turned 65.

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has ordered RTÉ to pay her €50,000 over discrimination against her age.

During her time at the national broadcaster, Cox had two separate contracts. Her full-time contract of direct employment ended in March 2016 when Cox turned 65.

A second contract, which began in 2003, was a casual freelance contract to present ‘It Says In The Papers’, for which she was paid a daily rate.

The decision by the WRC was first reported last night by RTÉ’s Industry and Employment Correspondent Ingrid Miley.

Cox – who is best known for her work on Today with Sean O’Rourke – told the WRC that in March, 2016, after her full-time contract ended, she was informed that she’d be placed on the roster for her casual contract  but that “a period of time would have to elapse” after her retirement.

Speaking to her former colleague Sean O’Rourke today, Cox outlined what happened in the months following her 65th birthday.

I had a contract to do What It Says in the Papers. This contract was still live, there was no reference in it to retiring at any specific age.
I assumed I would be continuing that after I retired from the main job, which did have the statutory 65.

“I kept contacting the organisation after I left, I was actually on the roster for the month after I left. That was taken off and I was told I have to wait for a while, there has to be a little break between you leaving the main job and coming back again for the freelance,” she said.

Cox said that months went by and she continued to email and call to query about returning to her freelance position.

After nine months, she said she finally spoke to someone who informed her that she would not be allowed return to work with RTÉ and that “it is on age grounds”.

I was absolutely devastated, Sean, because I knew a lot of people wanted to leave at 65 but I didn’t and I loved that job.

“The worst bit about it is, one day you’re out there, you’re working as a reporter and covering anything you’re sent to, be it a murder, a fire, anything at all and 24 hours later you have a birthday, you’re a year older and you’re told you’re not good enough anymore,” Cox said.

I felt so bad about that. I like work, I wanted to work, but that really wasn’t the issue. It was the fact that once I turned 65 I was just regarded as useless and wasn’t wanted anymore.
All I ever wanted was to go back on the papers. There was no need for all this fuss, really. I was quite surprised we had to go as far as we did with it.

RTÉ had argued that the retirement age for Cox was set out in a staff handbook.

However the WRC’s adjudication officer said that it seemed clear the staff handbook did provide for working after the age of 65.

It was ruled that Cox had been discriminated against on the basis of her age in relation to the termination of her casual contract of employment.

The WRC decision has not yet been published on its public website.

Political discussion

Labour leader Brendan Howlin has called for the government to publish planned legislation abolishing the mandatory retirement age in the public sector, and to address similar issues for private sector workers who wish to continue working after the age of 65.

Howlin raised the issue during Leaders’ Questions today, following the WRC ruling regarding Cox.

“There are many people working in both the public and private sectors who for whatever reason do not wish to retire at the age of 65, and are more than capable of continuing on and making a valuable contribution to the workforce for another few years,” Howlin said.

“For those who want to work we need to ensure their rights are protected in law.”

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