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Fair City star wants RTE chief Dee Forbes called as witness in his case against broadcaster

Tony Tormey, who plays Paul Brennan on RTÉ’s flagship soap opera, says he is legally entitled to a fixed-term contract – a claim denied by the broadcaster

Dee Forbes

Stephen BourkeSunday World

Fair City actor Tony Tormey wants RTÉ director-general Dee Forbes summonsed as a witness in his employment rights claim against the state broadcaster.

A preliminary hearing into his complaint before the Workplace Relations Commission also heard that Mr Tormey was earning €4,500 per week when he lodged his papers. His case under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2003 heard legal submissions this morning (FRIDAY).

Mr Tormey, who plays Paul Brennan on RTÉ’s flagship soap opera, says he is legally entitled to a fixed-term contract – a claim denied by the broadcaster, which maintains he was always “happy” to be a self-employed contractor.

He is understood to be one of three veteran Fair City players pursuing similar claims before the employment tribunal – along with George McMahon, who plays Mondo O’Connell, and Jim Bartley, who plays Bela Doyle.

Conor Bowman SC, who appeared for Mr Tormey instructed by Brenda Dunne of Liston & Co., said his client became entitled to a contract of indefinite duration “by operation of law” in 2004, when the act came into force.

He said his client had already been on a series of “rollover” contracts dating back to 1989.

Adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill put it to counsel that if he was to award a fixed-term contract in the case, it wasn’t clear what terms and condition of employment might apply to it and that these must have changed over the course of an engagement spanning several decades.

Mr Bowman said his client’s terms “haven’t changed at all” and that the only change was a fall in the amount of work offered by RTÉ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tribunal was told Mr Tormey worked an average of 31 filming weeks a year and was earning €4,500 per week when he lodged his complaint papers.

“Mr Tormey himself declared himself an independent contractor,” said Mairead McKenna SC, appearing for RTÉ instructed by Arthur Cox solicitors and the broadcaster’s in-house counsel.

Dee Forbes

She said Mr Tormey’s earnings from had varied year-to-year – from €150,000 in 2016 to €99,000 the following year.

“One of the issues in correspondence is a Revenue audit of Mr Tormey’s tax affairs and a determination that they left something to be desired,” she said.

Ms McKenna said references to the audit sent by Mr Tormey’s solicitors indicated “very significant earnings and a very significant income tax liability” over a two-year period.

She said RTÉ wanted the full details of the audit produced to the tribunal in order to “get under the bonnet” and examine “other earnings that we believe Mr Tormey was engaged in”.

“She raises very valid points, Mr Bowman,” said adjudicating officer Breiffni O’Neill.

“Yes, I accept that about the Revenue audits,” the complainant’s barrister replied. “By the same token, we say, RTÉ were aware of his status and mischaracterised him as self-employed,” he added.

He said the broadcaster was aware that his client had a claim to a contract of indefinite duration at least as early as 2017, when it received a report prepared by consultants Eversheds on the employment status of a group of workers being treated as contractors which included the Fair City actors.

“Ms McKenna has said he was ‘happy’ to classify himself as an independent contractor. It’s not about happiness, it’s about the law,” Mr Bowman said.

“This arrangement came about because of agreements drafted by RTÉ… because it suited them but not my client,” he said.

He said he was seeking a witness summons for the broadcaster’s director-general, Dee Forbes, to give evidence on the Eversheds reports.

Ms McKenna said a witness summons for Ms Forbes was “completely unnecessary and inflammatory”.

She said that before the case could proceed further there would have to be an issue paper drafted and a case management conference in order to determine the scope of the matter, the period in dispute and the status Mr Tormey was claiming at the relevant times.

“I’m always open to suggestions,” said Mr Bowman.

“Particularly good ones,” said Mr O’Neill.

“Mr Tormey are there any questions you want to ask?” Mr O’Neill said to the complainant.

“Not at this time, no,” Mr Tormey replied.

The adjudicator closed the hearing and adjourned the matter for a case management conference and the drafting of an issue paper.

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