SIPTU Arts and Culture Sector Organiser, Karan O’Loughlin, has welcomed a recent Labour Court award of €13,500 to a former violinist with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (NSO). The recommendation followed an appeal by the Union of an earlier Rights Commissioner award of €7,500.
As a result of RTÉ’s financial crisis, the violinist, a member of the Musicians’ Union of Ireland, was laid off in 2012. Challenging RTÉ’s action, the Union initially referred the matter to a Rights Commissioner, pointing out that the member’s original two-year contract had been terminated after twenty-two months and that she had received a written assurance that she would be offered a further three-year contract. The Rights Commissioner recommended, “in the light of the unique circumstances pertaining in this dispute”, that the claimant be given first option on any available work for tutti violinists for a period of one year and compensation of €7,500 for “the financial distress and hardship arising from the unanticipated termination of her employment”.
The Union appealed the recommendation to the Labour Court, arguing that the musician’s life and professional career had been “subjected to upheaval”, she had suffered significant financial loss, and had been reassured until shortly before her termination of employment that her contract would be extended.
RTÉ contended that the individual decision in this case should not be seen in the context of organisation-wide pay cuts, reduction in “head-count” through retirements, career breaks, voluntary redundancies and non-renewal or fixed-term contracts. The national broadcaster argued that this was not a redundancy, compulsory or otherwise, but rather “the expiry of a fixed-term work contract which occurs approximately a hundred times per year within the organisation”.
In its recommendation, the Labour Court stated that the original award of €7,500 was “not proportionate to the injury suffered” and, in full and final settlement, awarded €13,500.