RTÉ has been advised to change the way it hires “core” members of the Fair City as self-employed contractors after some were hit by large tax bills.
report made by Eversheds attorney and obtained by Independence Sunday concluded that there were flaws in the supply contracts for Fair City actors, and that those who had been on the show for a long time should be hired as employees.
Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating allegations of bogus freelancing at RTÉ, decided last week to write to the broadcaster about the issue of Fair Cities after Catherine Murphy, co-leader The Social Democratic Party stated.
RTÉ last year revealed that it had made a tax finalization of 1.22 million euros on Sales due to alleged bogus self-employment. There are dozens of affected RTÉ employees seeking compensation from the station for issues such as sick pay and lost promotion opportunities.
Tony Tormey, the longest-serving actor in the film, last month filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court for negligence against RTÉ. Tormey claims that the misclassification of a broadcaster’s work caused him to file a tax bill. The Supreme Court civil lawsuits involve claims for damages in excess of €75,000. Tormey, who played Paul Brennan, appeared in the first episode of the series in 1989.
Eversheds’ report on Fair City includes 174 actors who appeared on the soap from 2017 to the end of 2019. No actors were interviewed but Siptu union was consulted.
The report said most of the actors wanted to join as self-employed contractors as well as many who had worked outside in theater and other roles. Fair City is said to be very different from any other RTÉ product. “Story fluidity” means that it can change up to the time of filming. Production lasted a whole year with only a short break at Christmas.
The fact that the actors are constantly working on other projects, have agents informing RTÉ of their availability during the year, that they have no fixed hours and are not entitled to sick leave and extra money. when the episodes were broadcast on RTÉ Player all indicated they were properly classified as freelancers.
Factors that suggest they are more like employees include the €186 “Fair City allowance” paid a week and the fact that they get overtime if they work more than six hours on site. The actors were provided with breakfast, lunch and coffee in the canteen on the days of filming.
The review found that the contracts for the parties “lack some of the more generic wording that we would expect in an independent contractor agreement”. There is no explanation of how taxes are deducted from payments. We recommend that this detail be included. It shows on a contractual basis towards a relationship with an independent contractor.
It said there are “a number” of actors who have worked for Fair City for many years with “long-standing habits and an expectation of continued work”.
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Some of these “actually don’t offer acting services elsewhere and Fair City may be their only source of income”.
RTÉ told the review that it was important to engage the actors as contractors because the plot is so fluid. “A character can be ‘killed’ at any point and therefore requires the flexibility of an independent contractor,” it said. The review noted “anecdotal” that the actors were involved in Virgin Media’s Red Rock and TG4’s Ros na Run joined as an employee.
The report’s authors said they discussed the actors’ employment with a number of experts. The prevailing view is that “all actors are engaged as employees for a film”, with the exception of the main actors, who are employed as independent contractors.
It has been suggested that this was done so that actors like Tom Cruise or Renée Zellweger were not employees of an Irish production company while filming in Ireland. It is pointed out that Fair City is different from the movies because it is filmed over the course of a year and it is not possible to plan in advance when the actors will be present.
The review recommended that RTÉ change the way some actors interact. It said: “It will be the best way to decide on the key actors for next year. “Those core actors should be engaged as employees for the duration of production.” This will require more advanced planning and less likely to change scripts very quickly.
“While we understand the commercial desire to ensure programs stay fresh and engaging, this does not negate the legal requirement to classify individuals in the correct groups,” it said. There is “less legal risk” with actors involved on short notice but for those working more than four weeks in a year RTÉ should consider whether they should be hired as employees.
It says an actor’s fixed-term contract is not a standard RTÉ contract but one that allows them to continue working outside the broadcaster.
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