Chris Evans leaves BBC Wogan House after presenting his Radio 2 Breakfast Show. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The BBC can afford millions for the talent, but other staff are denied a fair wage
Over the last two days, we’ve seen wall-to-wall coverage of what the BBC’s leading lights get paid.
That’s not surprising. Few stories offer such a perfect mix of celebrity gossip, financial drama and political intrigue. Of course journalists are going to jump on this one.
But more than 20,000 people work at the BBC — and this story should be about more than the richest 96.
While the media has focused on the top talent, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union (BECTU) is talking about the BBC’s lowest-paid workers instead.
They point out that while top management earn hundreds of thousands — and some stars earn millions — over 2,500 BBC staff are on less than £20,000 a year.
“It is totally unacceptable that the BBC is prepared to pay senior management and others many times that amount,” BECTU leader Gerry Morrissey told the Press Association. “There should be a lot more focus on giving low-paid staff a living wage.”
Across the broadcasting industry, engineers, runners, technical and production staff work long hours to keep shows running. Many of those workers are young. They enter at the bottom grade, hoping to get a foothold in the industry. Morrissey warns this can create space for exploitation.
While inequality exists across the industry, the BBC is a public sector employer and can be held to account for how it uses taxpayers’ contributions — both at the top and the bottom of the pay scale.
The salary list also shows a significant gender pay gap at the top of the BBC, and a severe under-representation of BAME staff.
Although there’s a long way to go, the BBC recognises that this is a problem. In theory at least, it’s committed to taking action. These efforts should reach beyond the top tiers of the organisation to include lower-paid female and BAME workers.
But while the corporation is willing to accept that it has problem with gender inequality, BECTU reports resistance from management when it raises pay inequality more generally.
The treatment of behind-the-scenes staff isn’t as juicy as Graham Norton or Chris Evans’s pay. But if we care about fair pay in the BBC, they’re two sides of the same coin.