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BBC NI pays staff £1m for changes in their shifts

DUP's Sammy Wilson fumes as 229 workers claim up to thousands each in extra pay

By Adrian Rutherford

Staff at BBC Northern Ireland were handed more than £1m last year - for arriving early and staying late at work.

More than 200 employees were handsomely compensated for working an unpredictable shift pattern, including weekends, evenings and mornings. Some workers are receiving an extra 20% of their salary.

More: What BBC staff can claim set out in 23-page booklet for employees

The average payout is around £5,000, documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph reveal.

A little-known perk called unpredictability allowance payments applies to staff whose hours don't follow a set pattern and can be changed at short notice.

They can pocket an extra 10% of their salary if they are notified of their precise hours of work 14 days in advance, while those signed up to receive one week's warning of shifts can receive an extra 20%.

Between September 1, 2015 and September 1, 2016, 229 BBC NI staff claimed unpredictability payments.

In that same period, a total of £1,186,172 was claimed - an average of £5,180 each.

Other broadcasters, such as ITV and Sky, do not give workers flexibility bonuses.

A former BBC worker who contacted the Belfast Telegraph about the payments said it was "inconceivable" that staff at other commercial organisations would benefit in this way.

"People will see this and quite rightly be startled at how money is spent," they said.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he was astonished. "Every month produces a new revelation of BBC profligacy with licence payers' money," he said. "While shelf-stackers, caretakers, nurses, carers and so on work unsocial hours with no compensation, the BBC with its bottomless pit of licence payers' money awards its workers generously for getting up a bit early or staying out of bed a bit longer."

Mr Wilson added: "All those early morning workers on their way to an £8 per hour job listening to BBC radio should consider why the people sitting in a BBC studio should be taking over £1m in bonuses from the licence fee, which low paid workers are forced to pay under threat of criminal conviction."

Details of the BBC's unpredictability payments came to light after a Freedom of Information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

In recent years, the BBC has repeatedly come under fire for wasting money.

Last year the BBC's Director General, Lord Hall, said he was targeting savings of £800m a year - nearly a quarter of the broadcaster's licence fee income.

John O'Connell from the TaxPayers' Alliance said: "This will raise eyebrows as a bonus given out for 'unpredictable hours' seems like an outdated idea which few can expect from their employers.

"As licence fee-payers struggle with rising bills, the BBC must do everything possible to keep costs down."

A BBC spokesman said: "It's impossible to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week without employing people to work through the night or work unpredictable hours. Like most organisations we reflect this in our pay structure. However, we're always looking to make savings and this contractual allowance has come down by £11m since 2009."

Last September, it was reported that BBC journalists are paid up to 40% more than their rivals in the commercial sector.

The details emerged in a review of salaries leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

The report, carried out for the BBC by financial consultants PwC, said staff in the BBC's 7,000-strong news division enjoy salaries that are "higher than the market median".

The pay packages of around 3,000 news staff were analysed and compared to journalists at Sky News, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, the Guardian, Reuters, and several daily newspapers.

They found that among 1,125 BBC senior broadcast journalists the median pay was £49,000.

That figure was 40% more than the average earned by those in comparable roles in the private sector.

Analysis of the pay-packets of 1,781 staff at the rank of broadcast journalist found that BBC workers were paid an average of £37,500 - 34% more than comparable staff at commercial rivals.

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