The UK equalities watchdog has found “no unlawful acts of pay discrimination” at the BBC, even after the public service broadcaster offered back pay or pay rises to hundreds of female journalists following complaints.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said on Thursday a lengthy review of some cases had not found illegal behaviour but recommended the broadcaster increase transparency and “rebuild trust with women at the organisation”.
The ruling has deepened a controversy over unequal pay at the UK’s biggest broadcaster, which in recent years has faced complaints from more than a thousand women who suspect they are paid less than male peers.
Carrie Gracie, whose resignation as the BBC’s China editor in 2018 in protest brought the issue to the commission’s attention, called the report a “whitewash”.
Ms Gracie, who previously described the BBC as having a “secretive and illegal pay culture”, said on Twitter: “Follow the ££ instead: BBC forced to pay out to 100s of BBC women”.
She is among those who have received back pay from the broadcaster after it admitted she was underpaid for years in comparison to male colleagues.
The EHRC on Thursday said it had considered more than 1,000 complaints about pay made at the BBC between 2017 and 2019, but only picked 10 for an “in-depth” investigation.
Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said it was “easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down [as many were] left feeling confused as to how decisions about their pay have been made”.
The commission had “hope” that the BBC would take on its recommendations, such as equal pay audits at least every five years and consistent recording of wage decisions “so it is clear why and when an employee’s pay has been decided”.
The BBC has since 2017 awarded more than 500 female employees pay rises following complaints, something that the broadcaster attempted to play down on Thursday, arguing that the majority had been “for non-gender related reasons”.
Following Ms Gracie’s resignation nearly three years ago TV presenter Samira Ahmed won a gender discrimination case against the BBC. An employment tribunal found that her work was of “equal value” to that of fellow presenter Jeremy Vine, who was paid nearly seven times as much.
BBC Women, a group of female BBC journalists and producers, on Thursday said the EHRC had “discounted” the cases it knew the BBC had been forced to settle.
“New cases are coming forward and women are still heading to court. We fight on,” the group said.
The BBC said it accepted that its “historical [pay] practices were not fit for purpose”, adding that it had since 2015 made changes to address these issues.
The EHRC’s investigation found that the BBC had kept “inadequate” records on how decisions about pay were made, which the broadcaster said had left some employees “unsure if their complaint resolution had considered equal pay correctly”.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said many of her organisation’s members would “read this report and feel it doesn’t address their lived experiences”.
“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,” she added.
The BBC has in recent years sought to close the gender pay gap with several senior BBC journalists agreeing to take pay cuts, such as the former Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys and Mr Vine, who at the time called accepting the cut a “no-brainer”.
British law has stated that men and women must be paid the same for equal work since 1970.
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