The BBC is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission following complaints that female employees were not paid equally to men.
The EHRC’s announcement comes over a year after the BBC’s then China editor Carrie Gracie resigned from her role, accusing the broadcaster of paying male regional editors higher salaries.
In July 2017 the BBC revealed that almost two thirds of its stars earning over £150,000 were men, and its highest male earner brought home over four times as much as its highest female earner.
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The EHRC said it has been working with the BBC over the past year and that the corporation had voluntarily provided a large amount of information about its pay policies and reform, including changes to employment contracts.
In a statement the EHRC said: “Having reviewed all of the information received to date, we suspect that some women at the organisation have not received equal pay for equal work. 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.”
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the EHRC, 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 do to ensure all their staff enjoy a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential.”
We may not always succeed, but I am confident that we are a decent and fair employer. And, of course, if there’s more we can do, we will” – Tony Hall, BBC director general
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.
BBC 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, of course, if there’s more we can do, we will.”
The EHRC will publish a report once the investigation is concluded, setting out its findings, any action it has taken and recommendations for the BBC. It expects the investigation to have concluded by the end of 2019.
We suspect that some women at the organisation have not received equal pay for equal work. We have therefore used our powers under the Equality Act to open an investigation” – EHRC
A BBC spokesperson acknowledged it has some historic equal pay cases. “We are profoundly sorry for this. We regret the time it has taken to resolve all of the questions, but some of these are complex and have not been straightforward to resolve. We are determined to make progress on the remaining ones.
“Given the public focus on this important issue we understand why the EHRC is looking for assurance on equal pay and we welcome it. It is a logical time to do this as we have gone through a period of significant reform.”
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The BBC said it was confident it can provide that assurance and indeed go beyond and demonstrate our commitment to be a model for others to follow in this area as a result of its pay reforms.
The investigation’s terms of reference say the commission will examine a sample of pay cases where the BBC has reached resolutions or made decisions. The EHRC will analyse the roles of female complainants versus those in comparator roles, identify any differences in pay and whether there is a “material reason for that difference that is not a difference because of sex”.
We are profoundly sorry for this. We regret the time it has taken to resolve all of the questions, but some of these are complex and have not been straightforward to resolve” – BBC spokesperson
It will also look as managerial discretion in regard to pay, the corporation’s approach to job evaluation and pay grades, and investigate the pay of employees versus freelancers, as well as the pay of male versus female freelancers.
The BBC spokesperson added: “The EHRC’s terms of reference acknowledge the programme of reforms the BBC has been undertaking. If they had worked with us prior to our reforms, they would have found a very different organisation.
“Some of the criticism levelled at us over this period was very fair as change was overdue. We believe our pay structures are now fair, transparent to staff and stand very positive comparison with other organisations.
“Over the past two years we have actively encouraged people to come forward with questions over their pay. Many of these have been routine queries, and we have now resolved more than 85% of them.”
A BBC-commissioned PwC report in 2018 found no evidence of gender bias in the way the broadcaster sets its presenters’ salaries, but said there were a number of “anomalies” that needed addressing.