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BBC investigated over discrimination by equal pay watchdog

© Mark Thomas

12 March 2019

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has launched an investigation into equal pay at the BBC following complaints from female employees.

The EHRC said it had been in discussions with the BBC about staff pay for the past year and suspected that some women at the organisation had not received equal pay for equal work.

In a statement it said: “Having reviewed all the information received to date, we have therefore used our powers under the Equality Act to open an investigation which will relate to the BBC’s historic policy and pay practices.

"The investigation will examine formal and informal pay grievances raised with the BBC by staff to determine if there has been unlawful pay discrimination and whether grievances have been adequately resolved.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Paying men and women the same salary for the same job has been a legal requirement for almost 50 years. Every organisation should know we are fully committed to ensuring employers comply with equal pay law. Employers today should be doing as much as they can to ensure all their staff enjoy a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential.”

The NUJ has dealt with more than 200 equal pay cases at the BBC, including that of Carrie Gracie, who received an apology from the BBC after quitting her job as the corporation's China editor in a dispute over equal pay. 

Michelle Stanistreet said:

“This is a salutary moment for the BBC – putting its enquiries on to a statutory footing is a major step for the EHRC, particularly in light of the intense engagement with the corporation there has been during the past year.

“The EHRC’s starting point for this investigation – a suspicion that ‘some women at the organisation have not received equal pay for equal work’ – is, in the NUJ’s view, a fact. It is quite clear from the NUJ’s involvement – whether in the informal process, grievances or appeals, and potential tribunal claims – that pay inequity has been a reality at the corporation and that women have lost out in pay, pensions contributions and other terms and conditions.

“Working with the joint unions over the past year, enormous effort has been put into changing the corporation’s approach on pay, creating structures with greater consistency, tackling unfairness and inequity, increasing transparency, dismantling managerial discretion and centralising decision-making. Other major pieces of work have been initiated which are designed to change the culture and break down structural barriers to progression.

“But change in a major organisation can be slow and behaviour hard to modify, particularly when it’s been allowed to go unchecked for many years. Sorting out the existing cases – many which demonstrate breath-taking inequality – must be the critical step in demonstrating that the BBC is serious about making good its commitment to real equality and righting the wrongs that have taken place.

“We know the BBC is not the worst offender in the industry – media players have been shown to have a terrible record on equal pay and their gender pay gap. But the BBC is our public service broadcaster and has a responsibility to lead the way on this vital issue. The NUJ will continue to do all it can to ensure that happens.”

The BBC's director general Tony Hall said: "We've been through a tremendous period of reform - and have already changed things for the better. The commission itself recognises our commitment to reform and our collaborative approach. We try to be the gold standard of what everyone wants from society - openness, respect and equality. We may not always succeed, but I am confident that we are a decent and fair employer and if there's more we can do, we will."

The BBC said it had voluntarily provided the EHRC with information about its pay policies. The investigation will look at records dating back to 2016. The EHRC says it hopes to publish the results by the end of this year.

Damian Collins, chair of the department for digital, culture, media & sport select committee, said:

"I am pleased that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will now be investigating the matter of equal pay at the BBC. The committee set out its concerns in our recent report on the BBC that they had failed in its obligations to ensure that men and women were being paid equally for work of equal value.

“Having taken evidence from many women at the BBC, the committee is also concerned that there remain a number of outstanding grievance cases with no clear end date in sight for their resolution. It is right that the EHRC will not just be reviewing whether there were discriminatory pay policies at the BBC, but also the effectiveness of the system for grievances to be heard fairly. This has clearly been a very distressing time for many BBC employees and we would all like to see these matters brought to a successful conclusion."

Equality regulator opens investigation into BBC over equal pay

Tags: , bbc, equality and human rights commission, equality act 2010, equal pay, investigation, tony hall, gender pay gap