Equal pay: "In this crisis women have been disproportionately impacted", Michelle Stanistreet

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has been very active in recent years fighting unequal pay at work, in particular at the BBC, the UK's public service media. We asked NUJ General Secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, about her union's role in supporting women in their equal pay claims and for tips that can help others close the gender pay gap.

Credit: Jason Harris

1. The fight for equal pay in the media saw an important landmark case last year in the UK with Samira Ahmed’s victory against the BBC, following her claim that she was paid 6 times less than her male colleague for doing the same job. Your union was a high profile supporter of Samira. What advice would you give to unions that wish to support claims for equal pay?    

The NUJ funded Samira’s case alongside scores of other equal pay cases of members, working in a variety of roles throughout the BBC. Since the spotlight was thrust on the issue of pay parity following the forced disclosure of high earners at the BBC in 2017, a significant part of the NUJ’s industrial work and legal representation has been on tackling the scourge of unequal pay. Equality and fairness is a core part of every trade union’s work, and fighting to ensure that is delivered in workplaces is vital. Whether it’s about securing pay or stamping out the gender pay gap – proactive campaigns on issues that matter to women builds engagement and activism.

2. One of the most significant details of this case was that the BBC didn’t try to appeal the Employment Tribunal decision. Does this decision therefore provide hope to more women journalists to launch claims for equal pay at work?   

In my view the BBC lost this case before the judgement was handed down. Their approach to their defence showed they were willing spend significant sums on a top-flight legal team, and prepared to disparage and undermine Samira in the process. It was a foolish strategy and one which backfired, certainly in the court of public opinion. Our clear and decisive victory gave the BBC no room for cover, and spending even more licence fee pay money would have been foolhardy and something the NUJ made clear we would robustly fight. Every equal pay settlement in a workplace, every tribunal case that takes place, is a message to other women everywhere that they should be sure they are being treated fairly at work, and if they’re not, they should absolutely stand up and challenge that.

3. How can you make sure the gender pay gap is addressed in newsrooms at a time when the media are struggling just to stay alive and are carrying out job and salary cuts?

It’s easy sometimes for matters of equality to be relegated to the position of “nice to have” and the focus to shift to saving jobs and salary levels. But that’s a dangerous mindset and in fact during difficult times it’s even more vital to uphold principles of equality and to see off any measures that further entrench discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, it’s clear in this crisis that women have been disproportionately impacted, and that many employers have seized on the opportunity to restructure and cut jobs, dispensing with obligations such as equality risk assessments, and targeting women and part-time workers unfairly. So campaigning active trade unions are an essential bulwark against such indefensible practices.

4. Enforcement of the gender pay regulations were suspended due to Covid 19 and UK companies will have a six-month (until october 2021) reprieve before any enforcement on this matter. What tools can be put in place to continue fighting for equal pay?*

NUJ chapel reps are being encouraged to continue dialogues with employers, both to urge them to publish their gender pay gaps as close to the normal deadline as possible, and to engage with our members about necessary action plans to tackle the gaps. We’re also pushing for the regulations to be extended to include data on disabled workers and black and ethnic minority staff too. We had campaigned against any further suspension by the UK government, in order not to lose vital momentum, and will do what we can to ensure the 6-month grace period does not derail this important work.


* Gender pay regulation requires that all employers in the UK report their gender pay gap information through the UK's gender pay gap service. Due to the pandemic impact, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that all employers in Wales, England and Scotland will have an additional six-month period, which concludes on 5 October 2021, to report their data.

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