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BBC "deliberately misled" women over pay, says NUJ

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30 January 2018

The NUJ has condemned the BBC for routine secrecy over pay and for deliberately misleading NUJ members over their salary levels when they queried their pay. In its evidence to the  Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee, published today with evidence from  BBC Women, a group of women working at the corporation.

The women, many of them high-profile presenters and journalists, called for an apology, back pay and pension adjustments over claims that the corporation broke equality laws by failing to pay them fairly and claimed that they faced "veiled threats" while trying to raise the subject of equal pay.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, will be giving evidence tomorrow to the committee with BBC journalist Carrie Gracie, who quit her posat as China editor after discovering her male equivalents were being paid more than her, and senior BBC management, Tony Hall, director general, Sir David Clementi, chairman, Fran Unsworth, director, BBC World Service Group and Anne Bulford, deputy director general at The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, at 13.00.

The NUJ evidence said:

  • In December the NUJ lodged a collective grievance to the BBC on behalf of 121 members – several more have since joined the grievance, which also includes complaints of related discriminatory practices, such as unlawful pay disparities on grounds of race, discrimination against women returning to work after periods of maternity leave, and discrimination against part-time workers and/or those who request flexible working. The union has agreed a process with the BBC to investigate the cases. The NUJ is also representing a number of other women in individual grievances, all at differing stages of the process. It is important to note that these are women working in all parts of the BBC in a wide range of journalistic and on a broad range of salaries – in the graded areas and in the on-air cohort. This is a much bigger problem than a small number of cases at the higher end of the pay scale.
  • Worse than the routine secrecy over pay, is the fact that many NUJ members were deliberately misled by BBC management over their salary levels, in some cases despite explicitly querying whether they were being paid equally to male comparators. In numerous cases, women were given assurances that their earnings were on a level pegging with men doing work of equal value, colleagues carrying out a commensurate role or even presenters they were sharing the same sofa with. In her TUC blog, Michelle Stanistreet said: “In the months since, I have lost count of the women journalists who say they have been lied to, misled and let down by the organisation they have committed their careers to." The lack of transparency has been compounded by the system of pay scales, which mask whether more men than women were at the top of the band/grade and there continues to be a lack of clarity about how staff progress within their band/grade. For the past 16 months the joint unions have been in negotiations with the BBC over its proposals to change terms and conditions, and the NUJ believes it is important that in future much greater transparency is achieved with individuals not just knowing what their own salary is within a pay band, but that they can see how they compare with others and can see the salary ranges for other roles that they may progress into in the corporation.
  • The treatment of freelances over contract renewals is also a major source of concern. Many women have been subjected to undue pressure to sign up to contracts despite being unhappy with the terms on offer, and told that their presenting work will be cut or end if they don’t agree. Routinely letting contracts expire before meaningfully negotiating the next, has also meant that those discussions are taking place in the context of real uncertainty and consequential stress and anxiety for the individuals concerned. There have also been cases where payments have been withheld as a tactic to pressure individuals to sign contracts, or presenting shifts reduced. All of this is wholly inappropriate behaviour for any organisation, least of all a public body. The use of “creative refresh” clauses has also added to this anxiety – the knowledge that the BBC could end your work if it deems your face no longer fits make it hard for individuals to put their head above the parapet.  In ongoing consultation as part of the On Air Talent, the joint unions have secured agreement from the BBC that such clauses will no longer be used.
  • A key challenge for the BBC now, in tackling equal pay, is how it resolves the cases of those women who have been demonstrably unfairly treated – losing pay and benefits over many years. An acknowledgement that mistakes have been made and a practical commitment to righting these past wrongs – not just implementing token pay rises – is a critical first step. All NUJ members are well aware of the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster, its financial constraints and limitations. No-one wants to be put in a position of having to take legal action against the employer that they, in many cases, have dedicated their careers to. The NUJ wants the BBC to engage in a constructive dialogue to resolve these cases properly, at the same time as working jointly to ensure a better, more transparent, process is put in place to ensure that equal pay becomes a reality at our public service broadcaster.
  • It is important to note that the BBC is not a solitary offender – the scourge of unequal pay is a problem in all parts of the media sector and broader creative industries. The NUJ is currently working with members in a number of different workplaces to gather data and set about dismantling unlawful pay disparities that have no place in 21st century organisations. However the NUJ also believes that the BBC, as our public service broadcaster, has a particular responsibility to ensure the values that it is supposed to embody are put into practice in the way in which it treats and remunerates its staff.

In a letter in today's Guardian, senior female trade unionists called on the cross-party Commons select committee looking into pay inequality at the BBC to examine the issue thoroughly, saying: " We also support the National Union of Journalists, who have 126 equal pay cases lodged at the BBC on behalf of their members. Elsewhere, Prospect, Bectu and Equity are also working hard, representing members and challenging discrimination at the BBC and in other workplaces."

Tags: , bbc, pay, equal pay, equality, dcms select committee, Carrie Gracie, tony hall, anne bulford, fran unsworth