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NUJ response to the BBC's PwC review of on-air pay

© Mark Thomas

30 January 2018

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"This report acknowledges that there has been a serious lack of oversight when it comes to pay of on-air talent at the BBC, with unchecked managerial discretion that the NUJ believes has been a significant factor in allowing a discriminatory pay culture to flourish. 

“The PwC report does not reflect the reality of the many NUJ members who are currently taking equal pay complaints at the BBC, and who the union will be supporting through legal action if sensible and fair resolutions are not reached. Its claim that there is no evidence of gender bias in pay decision-making flies in the face of reality our members say they are experiencing. Unless the BBC stops denying there is a problem, our members will not be convinced it intends to fix it.

"Having a transparent structure with clear job rates is vital to ensure that unequal pay is eradicated at our public service broadcaster. Right now, however, rebuilding trust among women who feel rightly angered and betrayed by their treatment is the BBC’s key challenge – that means taking responsibility and committing to righting past wrongs, and having pragmatic discussions about how to remedy the historic losses women have accrued."

The PwC report said:

"We have found no evidence of gender bias in pay decision-making, but the BBC’s approach to setting pay for the group that we have considered in this report, as the “on-air group”, historically has been far from perfect… In our view, too much weight has been placed on the prominence and profile of certain individuals (both male and female, but mostly male), which has resulted in instances of very high pay. The BBC has started to reduce pay for some individuals in these circumstances."  It added: "The absence of pay ranges has led to a lack of clarity and openness about the basis for making pay decisions. It has also created a sense of unfairness because individuals are not aware of where they are paid in a range."

The BBC says its plan now is:

  • Substantial pay cuts for some men and increases for some male and female presenters - prominent men in BBC News have already accepted pay cuts. We have already addressed close to half of the 230 cases raised of pay unfairness and equality by women and men – on and off air. We aim to conclude the rest by the summer.
  • A new on-air framework for determining the pay of people on air - an equal, fair and transparent structure for the future. We will have narrower pay bands because they have become too wide; cut the number of contracts and allowances to be simpler and fairer; and have clear criteria for how pay reflects skills, experience and audience impact. We will fully consult on this to make sure we get it right.
  • Greater pay transparency - we aim to be the most transparent organisation when it comes to pay. When our reforms are complete, everyone will be able to see the pay range for virtually every job in the BBC. Where there are more than 20 people in a job, staff will also be able to see where everyone else is positioned. We will do more to explain the wage of each presenter paid over £150,000, especially where they do more than one role.
  • Review of career progression and working practices for women - we will look at what more we can do to make the BBC a better place for women to work. We already, for example, allow and encourage job shares and other flexible forms of working. We will review what we do to ensure we have the best-in-class processes and opportunities. We want to help more women progress more quickly at the BBC.
  • We will also accelerate our work to achieve 50:50 representation across the BBC by 2020. Through the year we will continue to make changes to our on-air line-ups at a faster rate.

 BBC response

The NUJ's evidence to the DCMS select committee, which is holding a session on pay at the BBC,  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.

Full submission

Tags: , bbc, pay, equal pay, equality, on-air, pwc, broadcasting, dcms select committee