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RTE would be ‘exposed to avoidable legal challenge’ if contract terms published

RTE has published legal advice that states it would be exposed to “avoidable legal challenge” if it were to publish employee contract details in the interest of transparency.

The national broadcaster also confirmed that it has written to former executives requesting their consent to waive their right to confidentiality on their exit agreements.

RTE has come under political pressure to disclose the details of certain exit arrangements, following the revelation that former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe received a voluntary redundancy package worth 450,000 euro.

RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst sought updated advice on “how far we can push transparency” on exit packages, given obligations regarding GDPR, Irish employment law and the individual rights RTE employees.

Mr Bakhurst said it would undermine future trust in the organisation if it decided to “walk away” from mediated legal agreements.

RTE pay revelations
RTE director general Kevin Bakhurst (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “I’ve never in my whole career been asked to break the law and I don’t think it’s a great idea to start doing that now.”

Advice by legal firm Arthur Cox, published by RTE on Thursday, states that both employees and former employees have a legal right that their personal data relating to their employment is not made publicly available.

“If such information is published, we remain of the view that this would contravene employees’ contractual and statutory rights thereby exposing RTE to avoidable legal challenge,” a letter dated February 21 stated.

In a separate letter from the same day, with the subject line ‘certain arrangements entered into with former employees’, the note states that the deals agreed “represented a better commercial outcome” for RTE than alternatives.

“We can confirm that these arrangements were carefully considered weighing up legal risk along with the cost, time and uncertainty surrounding alternative options.

“In our view, the terms ultimately agreed represented a better commercial outcome for RTE than the alternative options available combined with the attendant risks associated with same and fell within parameters of similar arrangements we have seen in both the private and semi-state sectors.”

In a third letter dated October 5, it acknowledges RTE’s aim for transparency, but said it is “in receipt of a number of objections and complaints expressing concerns about the potential disclosure of personal data without the consent of the employees concerned”.

“If such information is published in a manner where employees could be identified then we are of the view that this would create significant employee and industrial relations issues for RTE, as well as potentially resulting in legal exposure depending on the nature of the publication.

“The potential for such issues is borne out by correspondence RTE has received to date from concerned current and former employees.”

Arthur Cox also said that it is not aware of any contractual provision that contemplates the general publication of employee’s information, and said the release of sensitive data could o “undermine the trust and confidence” required in employer-employee relationships.