Equality watchdog clears BBC of pay discrimination against women

2 weeks ago

Carrie Gracie (centre) and other BBC employees outside New Broadcasting House in March 2018

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An investigation into equal pay at the BBC has found no unlawful acts of pay discrimination against women.

But the Equalities and Human Rights Commission recommended “improvements to increase transparency and rebuild trust with women at the organisation”.

Its equal pay inquiry followed high-profile complaints by presenters like Samira Ahmed and Carrie Gracie.

BBC director general Tim Davie pledged to implement the recommendations, saying: “We have to work even harder.”

The commission, which launched its investigation in March 2019, said the BBC accepted that “its historical practices were not fit for purpose and has made significant changes since 2015”.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said many members would feel the report “doesn’t address their lived experiences”.

Naga Munchetty (left) and Samira Ahmed

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Gracie resigned as the corporation’s China editor in January 2018 after discovering she was paid less than colleagues like Jon Sopel and Jeremy Bowen. She received back pay and an apology from the corporation.

Meanwhile, Sarah Montague received a £400,000 settlement after being paid less than former Radio 4 co-presenters like John Humphrys and Nick Robinson.

And Newswatch host Ahmed successfully argued at an employment tribunal that Jeremy Vine was paid more than six times her salary for doing similar work on Points of View.

Differences between men and women were exposed when the corporation published its first star salaries list in 2017. Only two of the top 14 earners were women, and men made up about two-thirds of the overall list.

‘Emotional toll’

Equality and Human Rights Commission interim chair Caroline Waters said it was “easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down”.

She said: “Many women felt their voices were not being heard and have been left feeling confused as to how decisions about their pay have been made.

“This took a heavy emotional toll on those involved in the process and the strength of feeling of women at the BBC should not be understated.

“While we have not found any unlawful acts in our investigation, repairing the damage caused by these issues requires continued leadership and we hope the BBC board takes forward our recommendations.”

Tim Davie replaced Tony Hall as director general of the BBC this year

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Mr Davie welcomed the report and said the corporation must work to be “best in class”.

He said: “Trust is vitally important and as an organisation that serves the public, the BBC must continue to lead the way on pay transparency and fairness. We are committed to building a truly inclusive culture.

“We agree with the Commission that we should continue to deliver on our reform programme which began in 2015. We accept every one of their recommendations and will implement them.”

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said there were “still vital changes that need to take place”.

She said: “The fact that so many individual settlements, including Samira Ahmed’s NUJ-backed tribunal win, have taken place underlines the clear problems that have existed.

“It’s also important to acknowledge that where settlements have taken place, it’s taken an enormous amount of determination, effort and persistence on the part of individuals determined to hold the BBC to account, and that comes at a practical and emotional cost.”

‘Improvements to be made’

More than 500 women have been awarded rises since 2017 after making complaints. The corporation said most related to the issue of fair pay rather than equal pay, and that 99% of pay queries had now been resolved.

Four equal pay cases are still going through the tribunal process, with three more being dealt with by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). A further seven fair or equal pay complaints are going through the BBC’s own internal procedure.

Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, said the report “highlights the importance of transparency in pay and terms and conditions”.

She said the union had “worked extremely hard” with the BBC in recent years to conduct “a thorough review” of the terms and conditions of its representatives, but said there were “still improvements to be made, particularly in relation to pay progression”.

“While it is right that the BBC faces greater scrutiny, it is certainly true that the BBC is more transparent than others because it is publicly funded,” she added.

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