Gracie: BBC pay disputes among pressing questions for next director-general

Former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie has said it will be “interesting” to see how the corporation handles equal pay complaints under a new director-general.

The publicly funded broadcaster is looking to appoint a replacement after Lord Tony Hall announced he would be standing down in the summer after seven years as director-general.

Ms Gracie became a figurehead for other women at the BBC when she resigned from her position as China editor in January 2018 in protest at pay inequalities at the broadcaster which were revealed when the organisation published the salaries of its highest earners in July 2017.

It sparked a number of high-profile disputes over equal pay at the corporation including a recent employment tribunal which found Newswatch presenter Samira Ahmed should have been paid the same as colleague Jeremy Vine for similar work.

Lord Hall
Lord Hall

When asked if the BBC has learned its lesson after these cases, Ms Gracie told the PA news agency: “I don’t know, we’ll see. Obviously we’re going to get new leadership at the BBC so it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the issue.

“There are many pressing questions for the new DG (director-general).

“I’m not saying this should be top of the agenda as opposed to any other pressing question, but obviously being inside the law is quite important to any big institution in our country, especially a national treasure like the BBC.”

Ms Gracie was eventually given a full apology by the corporation and received back pay to “put things right”.

She was speaking outside the employment tribunal of Rebecca Burke, who alleges she was paid 40% less than her male colleagues at telecommunication firm TalkTalk.

The journalist was at the tribunal to support Ms Burke and told the PA news agency: “I didn’t have to go to a tribunal but I’m very glad I won. My employer knew I was determined to take it to the end of the road, ie here (a tribunal) if necessary.

“Normally in these cases what happens is, if an employer thinks that the individual in question is determined, they will wait until the threshold of tribunal and kind of distract and delay and so on if they don’t want to play fair.

“Some employers just play fair and when it’s pointed out that they’re paying someone unequally they actually want to put it right.

“If an employer doesn’t want to do that, and they want to resist, often they will resist all the way until they get here and then they will offer a settlement with a non-disclosure agreement, and those don’t get published so the world is none the wiser.

“There are many of those. The BBC hasn’t got any of those.”

In Ms Ahmed’s employment tribunal against the BBC, the unanimous judgement found she was underpaid by £700,000 for hosting audience feedback show Newswatch, compared with Jeremy Vine’s salary for TV show Points Of View.

In January, radio presenter Sarah Montague won a £400,000 settlement and an apology from the broadcaster over unequal treatment.