Watchdog’s report on BBC equal pay must not quieten the voices of those fighting for equal pay

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Yesterday a report by The Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) cleared the BBC of unlawful pay discrimination against women. Here, Lara Kennedy, a solicitor in the employment team, discusses why this set back in the BBC equal pay case shouldn’t crush the spirits of the women fighting for equal pay. 

We are one week away from Equal Pay Day – that date on which women in full time work, on average, stop earning compared to their male colleagues.

Being so close to the day when women effectively start working for free for the rest of the year makes yesterday’s news even more of a blow.

Time and time again, women who are fighting for equal pay find they are being silenced even when all the evidence supports their cause.

The EHRC’s report is no exception.

Their investigation took 18 months but, out of hundreds of complaints brought against the BBC, it focused on just 10.

With findings based on such a small pool of cases, its unsurprising that women working at the BBC who have fought tirelessly for their rights find the report does not accurately reflect their lived experiences.

The Commission has said it was unable to investigate beyond a handful of cases due to funding restraints, but justifying the report doesn’t lessen the disappointment, and by cherry picking case studies we don’t see the full picture.

Many women have successfully challenged unequal pay at the BBC which suggests a systemic problem with pay discrimination at the organisation, so for this report to find otherwise is baffling.

It just goes to show that we’re a long way off abolishing the pay inequalities that exist across our society.

Working at the BBC might seem worlds apart from working in retail, but when it comes to equal pay it all boils down to the same thing – women want fair pay.

And while it was the names of high-profile journalists such as Carrie Gracie, Sarah Montague and Samira Ahmed that brought BBC pay discrimination to the general public’s attention, it was also backroom staff who found themselves underpaid when compared with their male colleagues.

It’s understandable that some women seeing today’s headlines, and indeed those working at the BBC, would feel disheartened.

But this report should not put people off enforcing their employment rights, it should only serve to illustrate why it’s so important to carry on fighting for equal pay.

The fact remains that Equal Pay legislation makes it unlawful to pay a woman less than a man for equal work.

Which is why we can’t let this set back deter women from making an equal pay claim if they think they have one. Instead, we need make the process easier, so women have the confidence to stand up for their rights.

One of the ways we can do this is by bringing an end to the secrecy that surrounds pay. All too often a lack of transparency prevents women from knowing when there is an equal pay issue; resulting in pay inequalities going unnoticed as was the case at the BBC.

This is why Leigh Day assisted the Fawcett Society in drafting the Equal Pay Bill. We strongly believe women have a ‘right to know’ what their male colleagues are paid.

We’re determined to keep supporting women in their equal pay claims and to help improve the laws that surround it, because the more voices we add to the cause, the louder we are and the harder it becomes for pay discrimination to be ignored.

Equal Pay Now are bringing a claim on behalf of thousands of supermarket and high street store workers who believe they should be paid the same as those who work in the distribution centres. To find out more about the claims and how you can join, visit here…

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