Equalities watchdog launches BBC equal pay investigation

13 Mar 2019 By Lauren R Brown

EHRC airs concerns female employees still not receiving ‘equal pay for equal work’ as experts highlight 'warning' to employers ahead of reporting deadline

The UK’s equalities watchdog has launched an investigation into pay discrimination at the BBC, as it still does not believe the corporation is paying women equally.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken the decision to launch a formal investigation into the BBC following a year of dialogue with the corporation, and has said that despite the engagement, it still had concerns over pay.

The EHRC stated: “After looking at all of the information, we suspect that some women at the organisation have not received equal pay for equal work.”

A BBC spokesperson said the organisation had “gone through a period of significant reform” after the issue of unequal pay first made media headlines in 2017.

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion advisor at the CIPD, said the launch of an investigation should serve as a reminder to employers of the importance of being compliant with their legal obligations on equal pay.

With the deadlines for round two of gender pay gap reporting fast approaching – 4 April 2019 for the private sector and 30 March 2019 for the public sector – McCartney said organisations should conduct equal pay reviews or audits to help ensure they were “providing equal pay and rewarding employees fairly.”

“However, an equal pay review or audit should not simply be a data collection exercise. It should include a commitment to put right any unjustified pay inequalities, and must have the involvement and support of managers with the authority to deliver the necessary changes,” she added.

The launch of an investigation was welcomed by Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, who said pay discrimination had no place in modern workplaces. “We hope this results in lasting change at the BBC and acts as a warning to other employers too," she said.

Wages at the BBC hit headlines in 2017 after the corporation was forced to publish the salaries of employees earning over £150,000, revealing the pay of some well-known male personalities was outstripping that of female stars. 

Since then the BBC has made progress, with figures published last year showing the number of women making the broadcaster’s best paid list had increased from 14 to 22. However, this still accounted for just 34 per cent of the list, and there were still only two women in the top 20 highest paid personalities.

Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC, said at the time that the corporation was “not disingenuous in the slightest” and that “these things take time”. 

Responding to the launch of the EHRC investigation, a BBC spokesperson confirmed 85 per cent of “routine enquiries” had now been resolved.

“We have some historic equal pay cases and we are profoundly sorry for this,” they said. “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.

“If [the EHRC] 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.” 

The EHRC is projected to complete its investigation by the end of 2019, after which it will publish a report setting out its findings, any action taken and recommendations for the BBC.

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