BBC cleared of breaking the law over women’s pay

Samira Ahmed arrives at the Central London Employment Tribunal.
Image: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

An investigation into equal pay at the BBC has found no evidence of unlawful acts of pay discrimination against women, although trust with female employees needs to be rebuilt.

However, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission probe, which was launched in March 2019, stated that there needed to be “improvements to increase transparency and rebuild trust with women at the organisation”.

The EHRC’s equal pay inquiry followed high-profile complaints by presenters such as Carrie Gracie and Samira Ahmed. It said the BBC accepted that ”its historical practices were not fit for purpose and has made significant changes since 2015”.

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

Meanwhile, in January 2020, Radio 4’s Sarah Montague received a £400,000 settlement after being paid less than former Radio 4 co-presenters such as John Humphrys and Nick Robinson.

Also in January, 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.

Hard-to-explain variations in salary between men and women were exposed when the corporation published its first star salaries list in 2017 showing that men made up about two-thirds of the overall list with only two of the top 14 earners were women.

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” – Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu

BBC director general Tim Davie pledged to implement the EHRC recommendations, saying: “We have to work even harder.” He added the corporation must work to be “best in class”.

The EHRC investigation found insufficient record-keeping on how decisions about pay were made. This led to poor communication with women making complaints. The search for evidence was sometimes hampered by missing documents and incomplete case files. This created a risk of potential pay discrimination at the BBC because it left the organisation unable to justify how decisions were reached.

Some women were unsure if their complaint resolution had considered equal pay correctly and had been left unsatisfied with the outcome, leading to a breakdown of trust in the complaints system, found the EHRC.

The complaints system also took too long to resolve cases, leaving women doubting that the process was suitably independent, and heightening their anxiety and stress.

The EHRC underlined that BBC employees must have trust in the independence of a complaints process and know cases will be resolved in a realistic timetable, with clear communication from beginning to end.

EHRC 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 added: “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.”

It’s easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down” – EHRC interim chair Caroline Waters

Davie 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.”

For Philippa Childs, head of broadcasting union Bectu, the report showed how important transparency in pay and terms and conditions was.

She said the union had worked with the BBC to review its terms and conditions, 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.

According to the BBC 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.

It said four equal pay cases were 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 were going through the BBC’s own internal procedure, the corporation added.

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