The BBC has “deliberately misled” female employees over their salaries, Britain’s main journalism union claimed when it gave evidence in a landmark gender pay case against the public service broadcaster.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, on Wednesday claimed “many” women at the BBC had been lied to “over their salary levels, in some cases despite explicitly querying whether they were being paid equally to male comparators”.
“A lack of transparency and widespread misuse of managerial discretion has enabled a culture which has normalised an approach to pay that the NUJ believes to be discriminatory and unlawful,” Ms Stanistreet told an employment tribunal.
The NUJ is backing Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed, who has taken the BBC to the tribunal over claims that she was paid less than colleague Jeremy Vine.
Ms Ahmed, who has presented the show since 2012, said she was paid £440 per episode. By contrast, Mr Vine made £3,000 for each Points of View programme before he took a £1,700 pay cut to help the broadcaster address its gender pay gap. Both shows are under 15 minutes long and invite viewers to have a say on BBC programmes.
The BBC, however, said the large pay discrepancy was due to significantly higher market rates for presenters working on entertainment programmes compared with news. In a written statement, it called its news channel “relatively niche” and said that on-screen presenters of BBC One’s Points of View, whether male or female, had always made more than Newswatch hosts.
The broadcaster argued Ms Ahmed’s pay should be compared to her Newswatch predecessor Ray Snoddy and said she was eventually paid more than him. The case is being heard at London’s employment tribunal all this week.
Anger over unequal pay at the public service broadcaster surfaced two years ago when the BBC was forced to publish its first list of on-air talent earning over £150,000. It showed high pay was disproportionately awarded to white men and sparked concern about promotion processes.
Last year, the BBC apologised and issued back pay to its former China editor Carrie Gracie, admitting that she had been underpaid for years compared to male colleagues after she resigned from her job in criticism of a “secretive and illegal pay culture”.
Ms Ahmed’s case at the employment tribunal is the BBC’s first since the publication of the list.
The NUJ said the BBC was “not the worst offender in the industry”, but said the public service broadcaster had a “responsibility to lead the way on this vital issue”.
The BBC’s mean pay gap this year was 6.8 per cent, down from 10.7 per cent in 2017. ITN, which operates the news channels of public service broadcasters ITV and Channel 4, this year had a mean gender pay gap of 15 per cent.
In a statement issued before the hearing, Ms Ahmed said she had a “sense of pride” working for the BBC. “I just ask why the BBC thinks I am worth only a sixth of the value of the work of a man for doing a very similar job.”
The hearing continues.