Presenters: 'Bullying BBC put us through hell'
The BBC has been branded a “bullying employer” after presenters confessed they contemplated suicide and felt forced to work through cancer treatment.
In a scathing attack on the corporation, journalists said they were put through “hell” by being axed as staff and forced to set themselves up as Personal Service Companies (PSCs).
The move left on-air staff without significant protections from their employer – including sick pay.
“If you didn’t do it, you didn’t work – no choice,” Radio 4’s Money Box presenter Paul Lewis revealed.
He told the Commons culture committee on Tuesday: ”This isn’t the story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax.
“This is the story of the BBC forcing hundreds of presenters to form companies and treat them as freelancers.”
Kirsty Lang, presenter of the arts programme Front Row since 2004, said “all my worst fears came true” when she was moved on to the new contract.
“Not long after I went freelance, my stepdaughter died suddenly,” she said.
“I was unable to take bereavement leave, in fact I went back and did my first show even before her funeral because I had to get some money in.
“And then two years after that I was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy. I worked the whole way through.”
Ms Lang said she took a month off after the treatment because she had “set money aside” and gone to a financial adviser for help.
BBC radio presenter Liz Kershaw also claimed colleagues had “gone through hell”.
“There are people who’ve nearly died,” she said. “The hell they’ve been through and nobody has listened to them.”
Ms Kershaw added she worked for the BBC for six months without being paid “a penny” – because she refused to set up a PCS for her salary to be paid into.
She accused her employer of making a “disgusting” and “tactical” move by releasing a statement the night before responding to criticism when they “realised what evidence was coming out”.
The announcement was that a new independent dispute resolution process would be set up, which might lead to the BBC paying towards historical bills that run up to six figures.
Following the evidence hearing on Tueday, Labour MP and committee member Julie Elliott described the corporation as a “bullying employer, whether by design or a result of strange management practices”.
The BBC said in a statement that it had “always tried to balance our responsibilities to presenters with our responsibility to spend the licence fee appropriately”.
It added: “The BBC is aware that there is a very high hurdle where public money is concerned and the whole purpose of the work is to inform and advise, so we cannot prejudge the outcome.
“The process will only consider whether the BBC should contribute towards demands for employer’s National Insurance Contributions, not demands for other taxes which individuals are liable for.”