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The full wrath of the trade union movement?

14 November 2019

Following staff cuts of 160 since 2017 RTE has announced a further 200 redundancies. These latest payoffs are posed by RTE as part of a package of measures to cut costs by €60m over the next three years. That includes the closure of Limerick studios, the Aertel service and the digital radio network, which includes five different stations, along with the sale of the RTE Guide to private investors.

The previous tranche of cuts “saved” nothing due to the payments made to private contractors rocketing. In fact the costs to RTE of outsourcing work previously carried out in house ultimately far exceeded the cost of keeping the employees they had cajoled and pressurised in to leaving the job. The policy, of which this is the latest iteration, remains unchanged.

Ambivalent attitude

This is the same policy as that in public transport and health which is seeing wealth being transferred into the pockets of private corporations, lowering public sector costs and boosting private growth figures. It is part of the privatisation agenda and is at the heart of the State's programme for “recovery”, a programme for recovery that has the tacit agreement of the trade union leadership.

Reflecting this tacit agreement, the response to the news by a Siptu official was characteristically ambiguous; “...I suppose to be very, very clear - we have stated that in the event that RTÉ attempt to impose pay cuts, that we certainly at this point can't rule out a ballot for industrial action.... “Now, to be fair, that is not our preferred option.... “But we need to reassure our members that it absolutely hasn't been taken off the table.”

The only people to be reassured by this is will be the RTE management team tasked with imposing the cuts.

The “S” word

The only surprise is that the “S” word was even hinted at!  The truce put in place for the last budget would not allow for such loose talk but the Siptu leadership's professional pride is always piqued when they think that management is bypassing their key services, and they swiftly demand to be “afforded their place”.  In an official press release they complained: “What has made this situation even worse is the way this plan was exposed. Only senior management at RTÉ had access to this plan yet it was leaked to the media. This was extremely disrespectful to the loyal staff at the station.”

Yes, it was disrespectful of the staff, but more accurately, it was contemptuous of the Siptu leadership. Indeed generally as full time union officials they are included in routine consultations with management and this being the case they will now face questions as to what went on behind closed doors. Most importantly to what extent did they acquiesce in the preparation of the latest scheme and was it an assumption that the Siptu officials already knew that led someone in the RTE management team to go ahead and release the details?

Legacy of compliance

Workers at RTE in previous rounds of voluntary redundancies did not subscribe in sufficient numbers but the union leadership accepted a deal clearly with the knowledge that the state is happy to salami slice the problem and can keep coming back for another slice until their goals are achieved. At this stage this is clearly evident but Siptu does not resist because like the rest of the Irish trade union bureaucracy they are on board with the state's plans for “recovery” and adhere strictly to the “deals” they make within ever shrinking parameters.

As their abysmal handling of the HSE non-medical staff dispute makes clear the deals they sign up to in which the workers “take the pain” keep getting revisited and  each time more pain is inflicted as the management get more of what they want, with the occasional crumb left over ... until the next time of course!

Stars in revolt?

In this case it is not the high profile performers who will suffer the ill effects of a pay cut, even one of 15% leaves these 'stars' on a hugely generous income. The highest paid earn upwards of half a million a year, but facing the real pain are the workers on the average wage who are threatened with pay freezes and “tiered pay reductions” where a smaller percentage would have a much greater impact in real terms.

While Siptu mutter about strike action it seems highly unlikely that a 10% cut for an executive board member will result in them turning up on a picket line any time soon. Mr Mackin knows this but by limiting the threat, no matter how half hearted, of industrial action to the issue of pay cuts Siptu has given a bye to all the other issues, in particular the sell offs, and has signalled that these hugely important issues will not be confronted head on and will be dealt with in 'negotiations', the preferred route to compliance by the union leadership.


The other union involved, the NUJ, undoubtedly too much toe curling at Liberty Hall, has threatened RTE with “the full wrath of the trade union movement” but as it is unclear what this journalistic flourish actually means we can only assume, given past form, that it means more press releases followed by 'negotiations'.

The “wrath” will come! But it will not emerge from the offices of overpaid bureaucrats! It will emerge from the ranks of ordinary trade unionists sick to their teeth with their leadership’s meaningless blather that  accompanies one defeat after another and the endless, fruitless “negotiations” that accompanies pay cuts, layoffs, two-tier pay, staff shortages, raids on terms and conditions and the gradual but relentless march of privatisation.

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