A human rights watchdog has launched an investigation into BBC pay practices over alleged discrimination against women.
The Equality And Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suspects that female employees at the broadcaster are not receiving “equal pay for equal work”.
MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee have previously accused the BBC of suffering “an invidious culture of discrimination” against women on the payroll in the wake of the resignation of former China editor Carrie Gracie.
The EHRC have now begun an investigation into complaints levelled against the broadcaster, to decide whether the publicly-funded corporation has acted unlawfully in its treatment of female staff.
A statement on the EHRC website states: “Following complaints that female employees were not being paid the same as men for equal work, the BBC has voluntarily provided us with a large amount of information about its pay policies and practices.
“After looking at all of the information, we suspect that some women at the organisation have not received equal pay for equal work.”
The terms of the investigation added: “The Commission recognises that the BBC is undertaking a programme of reform which includes changes to terms and conditions and pay practices.
“The Commission suspects that there has been unlawful pay discrimination by the BBC.”
The BBC has said the involvement of the EHRC is “logical” following its own reforms.
Investigators will look at sample salaries dating back to January 1 2016, to assess whether the pay differences at the BBC are “because of sex, whether it is direct sex discrimination or indirect sex discrimination”.
A DCMS Committee report in January 2019 warned the BBC over failure to act over alleged pay discrimination, stating: “We reiterate the conclusion of our inquiry: that our evidence suggests women within the BBC are working in comparable jobs to men but earning far less.
“This is unacceptable: the BBC is failing to live up to its duty to advance equality of opportunity.”
The EHRC hopes to complete its own investigation by the end of 2019.
A BBC spokesperson said: “Given the public focus on this important issue we understand why the Equality and Human Rights Commission is looking for assurance on equal pay and we welcome it. It is a logical time to do this as we have gone through a period of significant reform.
“We are confident that the BBC can provide that assurance and indeed go beyond and demonstrate our commitment to be a model for others to follow in this area as a result of our reform programme, although of course we will learn any lessons from the EHRC’s work as we continue to deliver change.
“The EHRC’s terms of reference acknowledge the programme of reforms the BBC has been undertaking. If they had worked with us prior to our reforms, they would have found a very different organisation.
“Some of the criticism levelled at us over this period was very fair as change was overdue. We believe our pay structures are now fair, transparent to staff and stand very positive comparison with other organisations.
“Over the past two years we have actively encouraged people to come forward with questions over their pay. Many of these have been routine queries, and we have now resolved more than 85% of them.
“We also commissioned independent reviews which did not find systemic issues of pay discrimination but, along with work we’d already been doing, identified improvements to our pay structures which we have been making.
“As we have already acknowledged, we have some historic equal pay cases. We are profoundly sorry for this. We regret the time it has taken to resolve all of the questions, but some of these are complex and have not been straightforward to resolve. We are determined to make progress on the remaining ones.”
The EHRC has previously announced it was launching an enforcement process against the Labour Party over allegations of anti-Semitism, which could lead to a formal investigation.