BBC pay row: ‘now make ALL salaries public!’

Mind the gap: The BBC’s highest-paid man earns four times as much as its highest-paid woman.

After years of resistance, yesterday the BBC finally published the salaries of its highest-earning stars. It caused a huge row — but some are calling for everyone’s pay to be made public.

At 11am yesterday, the BBC published a list of the 96 stars who earn more than £150,000.

Then came the outrage. Before the list was even made public, the BBC had admitted that there was a stark gender pay gap: two-thirds of the highest earners (including the top seven) were men. In some cases, male presenters earned more than the women sitting next to them on the same shows.

Meanwhile, many were annoyed that stars were being paid such large amounts from the public’s license fees. Radio 2 host Jeremy Vine (£700,000–750,000) received a call from an angry listener live on air. “How can you people justify the amount of money you are earning?” he was asked.

Others were angry that the figures had been published in the first place. It was “distasteful and disturbing” that the government had forced the broadcaster to make the information public, said former BBC One controller Lord Grade.

In many Western countries, including Britain and the USA, talking about your salary is a taboo subject. “People feel sensitive about how much money they are making,” the psychology professor Dr. Ryan T. Howell told Elle in 2015. They can feel defensive if they think they earn less than their peers, guilty if they earn more, and generally nervous about how others will judge them.

But a growing amount of research suggests that being open about wages might be good for businesses. One study found that secrecy around pay decreased workers’ performance; another found that transparency encouraged people to be more productive.

As a result, a handful of companies have decided to be honest with their employees about how much everyone earns. The technology company Buffer goes one step further and publishes the information online.

Employees say that they are happy with these arrangements. Often, knowing everyone else’s wages means that women and minorities are less likely to be underpaid.

Would it be better if everyone’s earnings were common knowledge?

The pay off

Bring it on, say some. Transparency forces companies to admit where they have under or overpaid some employees, and then fix their mistakes. It encourages younger or less-confident workers to ask for more money. And — after the initial awkwardness — bringing everything out into the open can help to build trust between colleagues.

What a terrible idea, respond others. Publishing the pay of individuals is a guaranteed way to spread chaos and resentment between co-workers in a business — and even more so between workers in different industries. (Yesterday it was pointed out that an actor playing a nurse on TV can earn ten times more than actual nurses.) The money you earn is a private, personal matter. It should stay that way.

You Decide

  1. When you get a job, will you be happy for people to know how much you earn?
  2. Why is talking about money seen as a taboo?

Activities

  1. Write a job advertisement for a BBC news presenter. Explain what they should do, what sort of person they should be — and how much you think they should be paid.
  2. In groups, imagine you are setting up a mini company that has £100,000 to spend on salaries. Decide who will do what, and then negotiate how much each person should earn. Compare with other groups in your class.

Some People Say...

“No public sector worker should earn more than £250,000 per year.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In total, the BBC spent £193.5m on “talent” last year, down £6.5m from the year before. News presenter Andrew Marr (£400,000) admitted his salary has gone down by £139,000 in the last two years, and that he has turned down offers from elsewhere. It is generally accepted that the stars of commercial channels like ITV are paid more than those at the BBC.
What do we not know?
What will happen next. Lawyers have hinted that the BBC might face sex discrimination claims. Some experts have predicted that, rather than cutting costs, the move will force wages up, as during negotiations stars will point to the salaries of their colleagues. We also do not know what would happen if all wages were more transparent — although this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Word Watch

Two-thirds
The BBC director general, Tony Hall, says he aims to end the BBC pay gap by 2020. However, lawyers have warned that the company could be sued for discrimination by some of its star women.
License fees
The BBC is partly funded by a fee of £147 per household for anyone who wants to watch live TV or use BBC iPlayer.
Forced
The disclosure is one of the changes in the BBC’s renewed Royal Charter, a document passed by the Conservative government last year after negotiations began in 2015.
Study
Psychologists Elena Belogolovsky (Cornell University) and Peter Bamberger (Tel Aviv University) in 2014 found that pay secrecy has an adverse impact on individual task performance.
Another
By Emiliano Huet-Vaughn (UC Berkeley) in 2013. He found that workers with information about their co-workers’ earnings provide significantly more labour effort on average than those with no information.
Ten times more
The BBC’s highest-paid actor, Derek Thompson, plays a nurse in the drama Casualty for between £350,000 — £400,000. An experienced nurse in the UK can earn between £26,565 and £35,577.

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