Betty Purcell – huge contribution to this country through high quality work and honesty

‘Feather-bedding’ at top of RTÉ a travesty, says former producer

Cantillon: in her memoir, Betty Purcell criticises ‘disproportionate’ pay hit on rank-and-file staff

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Former RTÉ producer Betty Purcell: “The feather-bedding of income at the top of RTÉ, while low-paid staff carry the burden, is a travesty of justice.” Photograph: David Sleator

Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 01:00

In her just-published memoir, Inside RTÉ , veteran former RTÉ producer Betty Purcell is sharply critical of what she says is the “disproportionate” hit taken by rank-and-file employees at the broadcaster when its financial crisis erupted.

Staff pay cuts were first broached in 2008, she points out, some time before the questions of managerial bonuses and “inflated contracts” for presenters were addressed. On the executive side, former RTÉ director general Cathal Goan is singled out for his salary of €320,000.

“The feather-bedding of income at the top of RTÉ, while low-paid staff carry the burden, is a travesty of justice,” she writes.

Presenter pay rates, which Purcell is not alone in judging “enormous”, mean the fact that RTÉ was the first public body to cut the basic salaries of all staff has been lost.

Her insightful account is one of a trade union activist. The “softening up” of the RTÉ group of trade unions began once management shared details of the broadcaster’s grim, unsustainable financial position, she recalls. Such a process “inevitably brings the trade unions to a position of arguing the pragmatic, common-sense need for cuts”.

The bizarre result is that organisations founded to support the rights of their members commonly “find themselves nowadays arguing alongside the management for cuts in staff wages”. Pay cuts of up to 12.5 per cent, billed as “temporary”, were duly voted through by a fearful workforce in 2009 and soon became permanent. They are “unlikely to be restored”, says Purcell.

RTÉ has reduced its staff costs between departures and pay cuts by 25 per cent since 2008, but Government semi-State efficiency-hunter NewEra has recently been trawling for further cuts. Seemingly in anticipation of NewEra’s report, RTÉ management has submitted a pay review by independent consultancy Hay to the Oireachtas and told its communications committee that RTÉ’s managerial and professional salaries are “below market average”.

In her “Pay Cuts” chapter, Purcell contends that it is camaraderie and the joy of creative work that carry ordinary RTÉ staff through in a work environment where “long, unsociable hours are the norm” and “significant levels of stress are commonplace”.

And it’s not all glamour out in Montrose. People on the lowest-paid grades work “in repetitive and tiring roles” .