A senior journalist at the BBC has resigned from her post because of the gender pay gap at the Corporation. Carrie Gracie, former BBC China Editor, stepped down from her role last week after accusing the BBC of having a “secretive and illegal” pay culture where female staff receive a lower salary than their male counterparts for carrying out the same role. In an open letter to the BBC, Gracie has alleged that the Corporation is “not living up to its stated values of trust, honesty and accountability” and despite her 30 years of service at the BBC, she did not trust senior management to deal with the problem.
The controversy surrounding Gracie’s resignation comes after a gender pay row erupted at the BBC last summer, when it published a list of its top-earning broadcasting stars, which revealed that merely a third were women. The high-profile campaign for change in July, led by many of the BBC’s high-profile female presenters including, Clare Balding and Fiona Bruce, prompted the BBC to review its pay structure, with the Corporation disclosing that men are being paid 9.3% more than woman on average.
Many on-air female broadcasters at the BBC, including Gracie, have challenged the validity of the July report, claiming that the ‘reforms’ introduced do not guarantee equality and have locked several female staff members in a protracted complaints process.
In response to Gracie’s resignation, the BBC have stated: ‘Fairness in pay is vital. A significant number of organisations have now published their gender pay figures showing that we are performing considerably better than many and are well below the national average. Alongside that, we have already conducted an independent judge-led audit or pay for rank and file staff which showed ‘no systematic discrimination against women.’ They also added, ‘a separate report for on-air staff will be published in the not too distant future.’
The BBC’s situation is unique in that they were obliged to report particular information last year under the Royal Charter. However, the type of equal pay dispute the BBC now faces as a result of Carrie Gracie’s public condemnation, could happen to any employer in light of the new gender pay gap reporting requirements.
In Great Britain, the Equality Act 2010, introduced gender pay gap reporting obligations for employers with more than 250 employees for the public and private sectors in March and April 2017 respectively. Whilst these obligations do not extend to Northern Ireland, the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, contains similar provisions to put in place gender pay gap reporting requirements. Indeed, the Northern Ireland provisions when introduced, will have a greater remit than those in Great Britain, extending not only to gender, but also ethnicity and disability. They also mandate greater penalties for non-compliance. Unique to Northern Ireland, the Act states that where there are differences in pay between male and female employees, an employer must publish an action plan to eliminate those differences and must send a copy of the action plan to all employees and to any recognised Trade Union.
Whilst draft regulations have not yet been published as a result of the current impasse at Stormont, employers in Northern Ireland should be proactive when it comes to preparing for the introduction of gender pay gap reporting requirements. In particular, employers should seek to consider the level of internal information they currently hold in relation to pay grades and bands, with particular consideration to any reference to gender, disability and ethnicity. Doing so will enable employers to identify and remedy any current pay gaps in advance of the introduction of the new regulations being implemented in Northern Ireland.
Niall McMullan is an Associate Partner in Worthingtons Commercial Solicitors, Belfast, where he specialises in Employment Law.