Lawyers for Fair City actor Tony Tormey say he has long been barred from taking up other work in TV and are set to open up 18 years of tax records in his employment rights claim against RTÉ.
Tormey’s legal team also plans to call the former executive producer of the broadcaster’s flagship soap to give evidence on the level of control exerted over the actor. RTÉ has maintained that he was always an “independent contractor” and has no entitlement to a permanent contract.
The actor, who has played Paul Brennan on Fair City since 1989, claims he acquired the right to a contract of indefinite duration in 2004, when a new law came into force.
In a complaint under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act 2004, he is seeking recognition as an employee and compensation for an alleged breach of the legislation.
At a case management hearing before the Workplace Relations Commission in Dublin on Friday, the official in charge of the case, Breiffni O’Neill, said the tax records would have to be produced if Tormey was to make out a claim for status as an employee starting on January 1st, 2004. Tormey’s barrister Conor Bowman BL, who appeared on the instructions of Liston & Co solicitors, agreed to this.
In legal filings on behalf of the complainant opened to the hearing, reference was made to contacts between former Fair City executive producer Niall Mathews and another TV producer in 2003, when an inquiry was made as to Tormey’s availability.
Mr Mathews stated the complainant was “not permitted to work elsewhere on TV”, the filings state.
“I’ll need to hear his evidence,” Mr O’Neill said of the now-retired producer.
“Otherwise it’s hearsay, yes,” Mr Bowman said.
Tormey took in sums of between €99,000 and €150,000 a year in 2016 and 2017, earning some €4,500 for a shooting week on the soap opera with an average of 31 weeks of production a year, the tribunal previously heard.
Mr Bowman said his client’s contractual terms had not changed over the decades, but that there had been less work offered to him during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previously counsel for RTÉ Mairead McKenna, instructed by Arthur Cox, said: “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.”
References to the audit sent by his solicitors indicated “very significant earnings and a very significant income tax liability” over a two-year period, Ms McKenna said.
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”.
Mr Bowman said the broadcaster “mischaracterised” his client as self-employed and knew there was a claim to a contract of indefinite duration at least as early as 2017, when it received a report prepared by Eversheds on the employment status of workers being treated as contractors, including some of the Fair City cast.
It was agreed at Friday’s hearing that the pending ruling of the Supreme Court in an appeal by Domino’s Pizza franchisee Karshan (Midlands) Ltd over the tax treatment of food delivery drivers – and whether they should be treated as contractors or employees – was likely to have a bearing on the case. The tribunal was told a ruling was not expected before February.
It was further agreed that the question of Tormey’s terms and conditions could be handled in mediation if the adjudicator ultimately found he had a right to a permanent contract.
The matter was adjourned for a further case management hearing in the new year, with a full hearing date yet to be set.
Similar claims are being pursued before the commission by Fair City actors George McMahon, who plays Mondo O’Connell, and Jim Bartley, who plays Bela Doyle.