Belfast Telegraph

BBC's women feel duped over pay gap, says angry Austin

By Aaron Tinney

The BBC's gender pay gap is unfair and distressing to every woman in the corporation, veteran Northern Ireland presenter Wendy Austin has said.

The Radio Ulster star was one of 40 high-profile BBC female personalities to sign an open letter to director-general Tony Hall calling on him to end the sex discrimination over pay in the organisation.

Mrs Austin (65), who has been with the BBC for more than four decades, said: "I feel very strongly about it. I think (the BBC) is a wonderful company and a fantastic organisation.

"And I would like it to be fair. There's an Equal Pay Act. I think, possibly naively, the women who signed the letter that I signed had felt for many years that equal pay applied to them, but it clearly doesn't."

Northern Ireland-born Annita McVeigh, a presenter on the BBC news channel - along with household names such as Claire Balding, Victoria Derbyshire and Angela Rippon - added her backing to the demand to sort out pay inequality now rather than by Lord Hall's 2020 target. They said the issue had been common knowledge in the corporation "for years".

Mrs Austin, who entered a male-dominated broadcasting industry during the Troubles, added the gender pay rift affected female workers across the board - many of whom are only paid a tiny fraction of what the main stars receive.

She told BBC Newsline yesterday: "When you think about all of the people we work with, there are some fantastic people in all kinds of different areas in the BBC, in production, you name it, right through the whole of the system, that it takes to put programmes on air either on radio or on television.

"How difficult must it be for them to look at these amounts of money and compare it to what they are being paid?"

The row comes after documents setting out the pay for BBC staff on more than £150,000 showed a huge gap in the earnings of the corporation's best known male and female presenters and actors.

Radio 2 presenter Chris Evans tops the list on more than £2m, while the highest paid woman was Strictly Come Dancing's Claudia Winkleman, who receives up to £499,999.

Lord Hall insists he is "accelerating" efforts to tackle the BBC's gender pay gap and has promised to hold a two-month consultation, with concrete results expected by the end of the year.

Lawyers have warned the BBC could face huge bills to backdate payments from angry female stars who could go to court to lodge claims for equal pay.

The Belfast Telegraph highlighted on Monday how the gender pay gap also applied to BBC executives. BBC Northern Ireland director Peter Johnston claimed almost £13,000 in expenses in the past year - including £11.66 to reprint a boarding pass - despite his salary topping £153,000.

Mr Johnston (51) was among more than 100 BBC managers on a second 'rich list' of staff at the corporation who were paid more than the Prime Minister. Less than a third of the names on the executive list are women.

A BBC spokesman yesterday said: "As director of BBC NI, Peter Johnston is required to be attend a range of business-related meetings and events throughout the year. All these work-related expenses are within the BBC's published policy."

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that Irish broadcaster RTE is to review "role and gender equality" following concerns over gender pay disparity. It said details of a review of role and gender equality across the organisation will be announced "soon".

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