MPs hear of 'veiled threats' to BBC women over equal pay and a 'bunker mentality' in evidence submissions

The BBC Women group has told MPs it believes the corporation has, over many years, “failed to pay men and women equally for equal work” in breach of equality legislation.

In written evidence submitted to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, the group of more than 170 broadcasters and producers said it had “no confidence” in the pay audit of on-air talent which is set to be published by the BBC today.

The audit follows that of rank and file staff at the corporation last year which revealed a 9 per cent gender pay gap favouring men.

It followed the publication of a list of BBC on-air talent earning more than £150,000 last summer which put the spotlight on equal pay concerns. Of those listed, one third were women and of the 96 named, ten were from black or minority backgrounds.

BBC Women said the pay reviews do not address the issue of equal pay.

“The illegality does not arise from men earning more because they do more of the jobs which pay more – which is the gender pay gap – it arises because some men are earning more in the same jobs or jobs of equal value,” the group said.

Evidence was submitted to the DCMS Committee ahead of members questioning director general Tony Hall and China editor Carrie Gracie on Wednesday.

Gracie resigned from her role after finding out she was paid less than other international editors who were male and described pay culture at the BBC as “secretive and illegal”.

Among submissions from individual BBC women was one from an experienced national radio broadcaster who said that when being offered a contract to present a “flagship arts programme” she found out that she would be paid half the salary of the existing male presenter.

She said: “When I asked for pay gap to be corrected the line manager told me ‘the BBC doesn’t do equal pay’, and that in raising the issue I was being ‘aggressive’. I refused to back down and eventually was given the same rate as my male colleague and it was backdated.”

The group also said that while individual BBC managers have been “supportive” there remained a “bunker mentality in some quarters” and that women have experienced “veiled threats made against them when they raised the subject of equal pay”.

The group said: “We believe the BBC can put these matters right by admitting the problem, apologising and setting in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure.”

It also called for independent arbitration to settle individual cases as well as back pay and pension adjustments.

The National Union of Journalists has also accused the BBC of a “lack of transparency” over pay and claims its members have been “deliberately misled” by management over their salary levels.

It in written evidence to MPs, the union said: “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.”

The NUJ said it has entered into grievance procedures with the BBC relating to over 120 separate cases, including pay disparity and discrimination.

Six top-earning male BBC journalists last week agreed to have their pay cut as part of a move towards equal pay.

Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine, News at Ten anchor Huw Edwards, Today presenters John Humphrys and Nick Robinson, North America editor Jon Sopel and Radio Five Live presenter Nicky Campbell have all agreed to a salary reduction.

Vine is the highest-paid BBC journalist, earning up to £749,999 a year.

Damian Collins MP, chair of the DCMS Committee, said: “It is clear that the BBC still has a big problem in terms of gender pay.

“Whilst a few big names on high salaries have been the focus of media attention in recent weeks, we are concerned to see evidence suggesting a much deeper cultural problem that exists.”

A BBC spokesperson said the corporation was looking forward to an “informed debate” at the select committee hearing that is “based on all the facts”.

“The BBC is committed to equal pay, and we don’t accept the assertion we have not been complying with the Equality Act, nor do we offer inferior contracts based on someone’s gender or race,” they said.

“We employ people in a wide variety of different ways, from fully employed to freelancer, often to suit the individual, and different types of contracts come with different benefits.

“We want to help women progress in their career and have set out ambitious targets to close the gender pay gap, as well as for half of roles on air and in senior management to be filled by women. We’ve also set out action to achieve them.

“We have already set out how we plan to deliver real pay transparency for our staff, and today we’ll publish proposals to significantly change how we manage on-air pay so we have a clear, transparent and fair system for the future.”

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

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