Louise Tickle looks at how women are fighting inequalities at the BBC and other workplaces
n more than two hours of explosive evidence before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, the BBC’s former China editor Carrie
Gracie (pictured right) said she had been lied to, insulted and smeared by her BBC bosses in the weeks since her resignation. Not only that: Gracie had just discovered, in the response to her formal grievance, that she had been appointed to the job of China editor on the basis that she would – entirely unbeknown to her – be ‘in development’ for three years. This, extraordinarily, was used to justify – to a highly respected, award-winning journalist with fluent Mandarin and three decades’ experience – the fact that she was paid up to £115,000 less than her male counterparts. Confusingly, the BBC’s adjudication of Gracie’s
grievance also acknowledged it had ‘inadvertently’underpaid her for years: management offered to bung her £100,000 to make up the shortfall.
Equal pay: a recent history
12 | theJournalist She refused. “I don’t want that money. That’s
not what it was about for me. They’re still not giving me equality,” she told the committee. When Gracie was initially offered the job of
China editor four years ago, she knew there would be sacrifices, not least leaving her teenaged children 5,000 miles away, and reporting from a country that is one of the most hostile in the world to independent journalists. In her searing letter of resignation, published on her blog in January, Gracie wrote: “I accepted the challenges while stressing to my bosses that I must be paid equally with my male peers.” But it was only at the select committee
hearing that those watching the live stream would have fully realised the impact of those sacrifices on a woman who had dedicated her professional life to public service journalism. “It was not a great time for my children – they
were embarking on A-levels,” Gracie told MPs. Her daughter had developed leukaemia. She herself had twice been diagnosed with cancer, so had initially resisted the pleas of the then head of news James Harding. She was ‘worried’, she said, about the impact on her children. In January, when she finally resigned on
principle over the pay inequality she’d discovered the summer before, she was blanked by all but one of the senior managers to whom she’d communicated her decision. Later, it appears her boss Fran Unsworth told a colleague that Gracie
1968 Female workers at the Ford plant in Daghenham strike for three weeks, demanding equal pay.
1970 Following the strike, the Equal Pay Act is voted into
law. It forbids men and women from being treated less favourably in terms of their pay and conditions at work.
1975 The Equal Pay Act comes into force, five years later.
had only worked part-time as a justification for her lesser salary. (Unsworth disputes this.) Sitting alongside Gracie at the select committee, NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet told MPs that the issue the union had raised repeatedly with BBC management ‘was not just the pay, but the processes’ that systematically disadvantaged women working at the BBC. Female journalists, Stanistreet said, had been told to go freelance, losing entitlement to sick pay, holiday pay, pension contributions and maternity leave. If they didn’t, they risked not being booked for presenting shifts. Women’s contracts had been deliberately allowed to lapse, leaving them powerless in negotiations. Some had fees withheld under pressure to sign new contracts. “It’s a very worrying culture,” Stanistreet said.
“We’ve been very upfront with he BBC about the inadequacies of the equal pay work done last year.” The NUJ is representing over 130 BBC women with equal pay and other discrimination claims. These are only the tip of a very large iceberg. There could be punishing financial consequences if women united and won an equal pay claim at a tribunal. If the corporation was to look to the experience of Birmingham City Council, which lost a class action equal pay claim, it would see the cost of unlawfully paying women less than men for work of equal worth can run into billions. Following a successful class action at Glasgow
City Council, the cudgels have been taken up by women in the corporate sector: Asda is facing the biggest ever corporate equal pay claim to be lodged in this country, with 17,000 employees undertaking litigation. Any equal pay claim won at tribunal means the employer must give claimants six years back pay as well as bringing all women’s pay up to that of comparable male workers. Before the committee hearing, The Journalist
asked Stanistreet about the union’s experience of negotiating with the BBC to secure equal pay. “There’s certainly a commitment on the part of the BBC to work with us to get the cases reviewed, but what remains to be seen is whether the corporation takes meaningful action to address not just inequities in salary but also past losses,” Stanistreet said. Stanistreet is dismissive of claims by BBC bosses that equal pay is complex to sort out. “There’s
1988 After a 10-year battle through the courts, the first ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ claim is won by Julie Hayward, a shipyard cook from Birkenhead.
2008 A class action claim for equal pay is launched against Asda. The numbers involved rise over the next 10 years to 17,000.
2010 The Equality Act replaces
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