RTÉ has declined to commit to paying the pension contributions, holiday pay and other entitlements in arrears of its employees which it misclassified as being freelance workers.
In a long-awaited appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the broadcaster acknowledged that it has committed to pay the legacy PRSI contributions of both itself and its employees who had been subject to bogus self-employment contracts.
Some 500 RTÉ employees are currently having their contracts reviewed by the Department of Social Protection to see if they were misclassified as being freelance workers. There is no statute of limitations on how far into the past that review can go.
The most recent figures suggest that 11 out of 28 employees reviewed as of September had been found to have been bogus self-employed.
Meanwhile, thehas been made aware of instances at RTÉ which saw contract workers taking time off for reasons such as childcare or hospital care and which the broadcaster in some cases subsequently judged the employees were not entitled to be paid for.
Some of those workers have since been found to have been misclassified, some over a period of many years. However, that money has not as yet been repaid.
Speaking at PAC Dee Forbes, the broadcaster’s director-general, declined to confirm that the entitlements denied to those employees should be repaid.
“We have to look at this in the round,” she said.
“What we want is a process that we can view holistically. In our governing principles (prior to the review of contractors) we did say that the matter of retrospection would happen at the end of the process.”
Asked if it is possible to state how much RTÉ has been found to owe in back PRSI payments to date in the review Ms Forbes said “the short answer is no”.
When queried by Sinn Féin’s Imelda Munster as to whether or not it is fair to deny workers entitlements they had been denied, Ms Forbes said: “It is not for me to say. I can’t speak to it.”
“We went into this on a voluntary basis, to understand what the issues are. We have to go through the process,” she said.
She denied that people might view RTÉ as a “rogue employer” as the broadcaster is “dealing with legacy issues here”.
Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy meanwhile clashed with Ms Forbes over the need for accountability regarding the issue after the director-general said “I don’t agree” with the idea that RTÉ had been involved in bogus self-employment.
“The important thing is that this won’t happen in future,” Ms Forbes said.
“I’m taking it that you don’t see a need for accountability,” Ms Murphy said. “I don’t accept this isn’t bogus self-employment. I don’t know what else you would call it. There has been a Revenue settlement.
RTÉ had entered the committee pleading for reform of the licence fee system which Ms Forbes described as “utterly broken”.
She said that public broadcasters in Ireland are currently losing €65m per year due to licence evasion and ‘no-tv’ households.
The broadcaster’s CFO, Richard Collins, told the PAC that the licence fee is currently allocated firstly to programming which can not fund itself. He gave the example of Lyric FM, which costs €5m per year to fund, and which is entirely funded by licence fee money.
The meeting further heard that RTÉ had 117 workers earning more than €100,000 per annum as of the end of 2020.
Regarding the perceived dearth of original programming, Ms Forbes gave the example of acclaimed drama Normal People, which she first described as “new original Irish drama”, and described as something “we could never have afforded”.
“We instead did a deal to be the Irish broadcaster,” she said.
Ms Forbes also faced questioning by Green TD Neasa Hourigan regarding accusations of the “damaging” body-shaming aspects of marquee diet show Operation Transformation.
“There are possibly triggers for some people, but regarding the overall health of the nation we have gotten very strong feedback," she said, adding the programme has "evolved” and “changed".
"We hope it is fulfilling a more holistic approach."
Regarding how RTÉ judges the ‘public good’ aspect of such programmes, Ms Forbes said “the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland assesses how we deliver on our remit”.
“They’re the ultimate arbiter of how we deliver and how we spend our money," she said.