Who is HR responsible for?

In the fallout from the BBC pay debate, I found myself responding to indignant comments about the “state of HR” by pointing out that I very much doubted that the contracts that were under discussion were covered by the BBC’s HR team. The debate was around the payments made to the “talent”, the actors and presenters that were contracted to the BBC. They weren’t (as far as I can understand) actual employees.

I haven’t worked in television, but my guess is that the commercial contacts for “talent” are probably handled entirely separately to the pay and wage structures that would be handled by the HR team.  A comparison would be a football team – whilst many of the big clubs now have HR Directors, they’re normally responsible for the teams that operate behind the scenes and not the players themselves. That’s why situations such as a Bosman can occur – something that would never normally happen in an employment contract.

The closest I’ve ever been is my time in publishing and I think it would be fair to say that it would have been considered entirely bizarre if I’d suggested as HR Director that I should have had some input to the structure of the contracts that were signed with our authors. But should I have had?

That’s the real question that the situation at the BBC brings to the fore. Most of us in well run businesses now are focussed on pay structures, on job evaluation, equal pay and of course gender pay reporting. But only for those “employees” or “workers” that are seen to be the remit of the HR department. In a world where increasing focus is being placed on the fairness of compensation structures should we be extending the same principles that apply to employees to other associated groups of people (I’m not entirely sure what to call them as a collective). Not necessarily as the responsibility of the HR function – simply using the same methodology.

The BBC have rightly had the light shone on them, but what about Sky, ITV, Channel 4, Amazon, Netflix etc.? And whilst we’re at it, what about the vast difference between the pay of premier league footballers versus their female equivalents? Are there justifiable reasons? Which other industries have groups of non-employees where there are discriminatory pay practices that pass under the radar because they’re not strictly considered employees?

Maybe this is an opportunity for HR to share its knowledge of remuneration and compensation management with other parts of the business. To use our expertise in handling similar situations and the lessons we’ve learnt as we’ve worked to improve the balance between our employees. If our principle concern is unfairness, it seems to me the issue goes far beyond the BBC.