By Gordon Deegan
A total of 254 RTÉ staff - or 8% of the total workforce - applied for paid-for time off as part of the station's Incentivised Career Break (ICB) scheme last year.
Such was the volume of applicants for the scheme - where those taking a year off receive an upfront payment of €10,000 - that bosses at the station refused 67 of the applications.
However, the 187 granted represents a 133% increase on the 80 who availed of the scheme in 2016.
This followed 96 staff availing of the scheme in 2015.
The vast majority of successful applicants opt for a four, eight and 12-week break where they receive €850 per month or 1.25% of gross salary or whichever is higher.
During the staff members’ career break, they are allowed to obtain alternative employment but must receive prior consent from RTE if they wish to work in a similar role with a different broadcaster or organisation.
A spokesman for RTÉ said that RTÉ was happy with the operation of the ICB schemes to date, but confirmed that there will be no ICB scheme for 2018.
The spokesman said that this was due to the availability of the early retirement and voluntary exit schemes.
The spokesman stated that the 2017 ICB scheme “was part of an ongoing review of cost saving opportunities and efficiencies, both short and longer term, across RTÉ”.
In the scheme, staff who avail of 26 or 52 weeks of an incentivised career break, they will receive an upfront payment of €5,000 and €10,000.
Last year, 36 of the 187 staff members opted for the six-month or 12-month options, with the remainder opting for the shorter four, eight or 12-week breaks.
The RTE spokesman said: “Requests are more likely to be approved by managers where an ICB does not have a negative impact on the operation of a particular team or function, or on the delivery of a service.
“Furthermore, while ICB's vary in duration, the majority of those approved are of a shorter duration."
On the reasons why the 67 applications were rejected last year, the spokesman said that the applications were refused “for a variety of reasons, such as duration sought, resources required during period sought, duplicate applications”.
The spokesman said that payments to staff exiting the organisation as part of RTÉ's early retirement and voluntary exit schemes exclude periods of unpaid leave, such as career breaks or ICB’s.
RTÉ’s FOI unit declined to state how much was paid out in total under the ICB scheme in 2017 or the top amount paid to a staff member.
The FOI unit stated: “The ability of RTÉ to run and manage its business costs effectively is of significant importance to RTÉ. The majority of RTÉ’s competitors are not required to release these records on the basis that they are not subject to the Act.”
The unit stated that the release of the records “would, therefore, be unfair to RTÉ and would be RTÉ’s competitors at an unfair commercial advantage.”