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Close the gender pay gap!

THE GENDER pay gap - and what can be done about it - was on the agenda at July's LFB meeting. Our speaker was NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet, appearing almost exactly a year since the BBC annual report in which it was "forced to publish" details of high earners taking home over £150k a year. The "absence of women and Black journalists on that list" and the "issue of gender and pay has been in the news ever since". It has become "a priority" for Michelle and for the NUJ.

Michelle Stanistreet with Pierre Alozie and Phil Sutcliffe

NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanisreet (left) takes questions LFB Committee's Pierre Alozie (centre) and Phil Sutcliffe (right). A much better photo by a professional photographer hopefully follows shortly!

The gender pay gap - the difference between average earnings for women and for men - was revealed to be 9.3 per cent across the BBC, provoking outrage that " a public service broadcaster that's supposed to have higher ideals and standards… could behave in this way." The news resulted for many women at the BBC in a loss of confidence in their employers, with "morale at a pretty much all time low."

Some "very high profile presenters" but also women in all stages of their careers had been cheated of pay and lost out on maternity leave, pension contributions and given unfair contracts compared to male colleagues. The issue has "affected staff and freelance members and new recruits".

It emerged there have over the years been "a number of cases in which women banged on about this to their managers", raising their concerns, and nothing happened.

Also, "many men have been lied to, told the women on the same couch (presenting a show alongside them) were being paid the same." Often, where male and female presenters co-present a show, the woman is freelance or in a personal service company, facing the risk of HMRC investigations, while the "guy on the same couch is a staffer". Older women presenters reported that they "felt very unable to take any meaningful maternity leave".

Such revelations and the responses they have generated are "a real opportunity for the NUJ and other unions". There have been periods where the NUJ has been in "daily meetings" with the BBC.

After a BBC Equal Pay audit "with many flaws", published in October 2017, there was then a separate On Air Talent Review (it didn't focus on high earners). Eventually the BBC realised it "couldn't just commission an expensive review of some kind". The BBC are in the process of sorting out "a serious and entrenched problem", but they still have a long way to go, Michelle adds.

The NUJ launched a collective pay complaint with the BBC - a grievance on behalf of 120 NUJ members. "That figure has since grown to 181," Michelle reported. The complaints are " in various stages of resolution" - some involving industrial representation informed by NUJ legal advisers. Some cases may well end up in an Industrial Tribunal "if we don't get satisfaction through those internal processes".

As a result of the NUJ's action, there have been "fair pay awards" in the BBC, many resolved with awards of "tens of thousands of pounds". Former China editor Carrie Gracie's success is one result the NUJ have had along the way.

The impact of all this has been felt much wider than just the BBC. Across the industry, the NUJ has achieved "quick settlements under the pressure generated" by the BBC gender pay gap scandal.

Michelle noted that of the newspaper groups running daily stories about BBC pay inequality, "every one of them was exposed as having a much worse gender pay gap than at the BBC." Many other news organisations "make the BBC look positively virtuous," with "rampant inequality in large sectors of the industry". The pay gap was 12.1 per cent at the Guardian, at Trinity Mirror over 20 per cent, a massive 24.2 per cent at Channel Four, over 25 per cent at The Economist, 19.4 per cent at the FT, 24 per cent at the Telegraph. (The UK average gender pay disparity is 9.8 per cent.)

The response to these revelations "can only be good news for women workers in the UK": Michelle notes a "significant spike of members joining" the NUJ, "especially at the BBC," while elsewhere "employers are "on the back foot... they feel exposed at the moment."

In its talks on pay equality with the BBC, the NUJ made it clear, as did sister union Bectu, "that we want freelance collective bargaining" which is now more "likely than ever" to be achievable within the BBC - though still "challenging elsewhere."

The NUJ Women network will launch in the autumn. Expect events and virtual webinars, unconscious bias training for NUJ workplace reps and more.