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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Why are we secretive over salaries?
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News website Magazine

Pay slip
Would you show this to anybody else?

The alleged leak of the salaries of BBC Radio presenters and the revelation that some GPs earn up to 250,000 are a reminder that when it comes to what we earn, secrecy is everything.

When the payslips come around at the end of the month, there can't be many of us who wouldn't like to take a glimpse into the envelope of the person who works at the next desk.

Particularly if they're a blithering incompetent.

But while it would not be unusual to hear talk of anything from sex to the details of the contents of a colleague's baby's nappy, salary details are almost always off limits.

At best, it would be a little strange to hear people regularly revealing how much they are paid; at worst a vulgarity on the scale of Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney.

Only the most oafish of City boys drinking flaming Ferraris in deafening West End bars will willingly reveal how much they're making. People with manners will not.

Our hang-up over pay is a serious issue for some. The Equal Opportunities Commission has previously complained that the culture of secrecy means many women tend to be unaware they're worse off than men.

TUC pay policy officer Paul Sellers (salary: 34,500), is a rare exception to the convention of secrecy. He says there should be more openness over our salaries, and that employers must take the lead.

Palace of Westminster
We know what workers here are paid

"It is true in some sectors there is a strong culture of secrecy. It can be a disciplinary offence in some companies to tell anybody what you earn. We think this is a bit foolish."

Mr Sellers says finance, construction and manufacturing are among the worst offenders, with employers desperate to conceal that inexperienced workers can be on more than experienced colleagues as vacancies have proved difficult to fill.

"If people are getting decent salaries why do they have to hide that?"

But Mr Sellers says in the public sector and large Plcs that make up much of the British workforce, there is broad transparency with pay grades linked to clear responsibilities.

Aerial view of City of London
But not so much about workers here

"At the TUC I know what my superiors earn right the way up to the general secretary."

Richard Wilson, head of business policy at the Institute of Directors, isn't about to broadcast his salary. Secrecy, he says, is more a case of privacy; an aid to a harmonious workplace.

"I can understand why people would want to keep them secret. They don't want to encourage anti-social envy. There is also the feeling that it may not be conducive to co-operative behaviour.

"If you had a poor appraisal and your pay increase, or lack of it, was made public, I don't think you would want that shared with your fellow employees. It is not just a question of employers being the main obstacle, it is employees as well."

Will he reveal how much he earns? "Certainly not."

Media frenzy

In Norway, he wouldn't have a choice.

There, for three weeks after tax returns are made in the autumn, the tax authority's website has a searchable database of every individual's personal finances.

This prompts a media feeding frenzy as the fortunes of the rich and famous are turned over in the Scandinavian nation's newspapers.

Lise Halvorsen, information director at Skatteetaten, the Norwegian tax authority, says it's a question of democracy.

"It is information that has been available to the public for more than 100 years. Some people are annoyed, but not very many. It is part of our democratic history."

Ms Halvorsen says Norwegians might find British secrecy strange but that there were other differences.

"It is the same as Norwegians seeing in London names of people who have been arrested in the newspapers. That is not the same way as Norway. It is a cultural difference."

Here is a selection of your comments.

Whilst a salary may be within a particular grade i.e. 26K -35K, there is still considerable scope (around 500 pm after tax) to feel extremely proud\hard done by.
Jon, Colchester

I started work for a consultancy in the UK when I graduated. Was told not to reveal my salary to others in the team by my by my boss. I am certain the reason was to prevent people from having bargaining power. I don't feel tabooish at all about the subject of salary and would happily talk about it. Its the companies that are preventing it!

I'm happy to add to the culture of openness. My salary is in NHS Band 8b, which is from 41,038 to 50,733. Public sector workers are usually open about salaries because we are paid from the public purse. I am happy for people to know what I am paid - and that I'm value for money.
Steve, Brum

I have worked in a small company with a group of five developers and over the last couple of years there I was paid around 2k more than my collegues. The breadth of my knowledge and my ability to support my collegues meant that they if anything thought I was underpaid.

I was happy though, i had freedom to turn up what ever time of the day i wanted to...
michael shaw, Sheffield, UK

In our (large plc) company discussions of salary are discouraged, to the extent of dismissal.
Bill, London UK

I would like to do my bit for society... I earn 55k
Patrick, Stoke-on-Trent

I think those in favour of publishing salaries are forgetting what greedy, manipulative, jealous souls most of us are! Not publishing salaries makes it a non-issue and lets people get on with the job.
Marcus, Basingstoke

I'll tell you my salary - it's 25,000 plus overtime and bonus - but I won't tell you who I am!
Anonymous, London

Aren't we entitled to privacy. My salary is a private contract between myself and my employer and no-one has the right to know its content, other than those I choose to inform.
Mike , Brighton

You can always find our salaries of your peers through misplaced e-mails and paperwork. But it does bug when I slog by guts out, only to find a colleague who goes to lunch with the MD gets >10% pay raises yearly, as salaries are based on favouritism not hard work.

That's one of the reasons I move jobs every 2-3 years and turn down the huge pay rises they offer when I hand them a resignation letter. I earn 65k and only my wife knows.
Mike, Reading East

I work in finances as an analyst. My salary is 62,000 plus bonus. Would anyone else dare?
Richard O'Connell, London

Working for local authority is great. Everyone knows what everyone gets. The downside of the scaling system is that after five or six years in the same job, there are no more payrises. You'd have to jump to a higher scale to get an increase, which is usually only possible by getting a higher-scaled job. So it's not all gravy.
Darryl, London, UK

At the start of the week everyone was criticising GPs for their, allegedly, high salaries. Days later the pay of radio DJs was revealed. I got the impression people were more outraged by the GPs pay. Despite the fact that the work they do serves a greater purpose than playing a record every now and again and eating a fry up in between.
Vicky , Bilston, West Mids, UK

My salary is 14,000 p.a. Would somebody like to pay me more please?
Mojo, Leicester

When I joined my last company, I was offered more than I asked for, and was told that it was because they wanted me to take the job. Then I found out that I was being paid 7500 less than the guy I'd just replaced. I now work for myself, and know the salary of everyone in my company!
Matt, Lancashire

In two of my last organisations people chose their own salaries and must defend them in public. If you are good enough, people will support you. Generally, people choose their own salary below what other people think thy should earn - and have to be forced to ask for more.

Those who donit deserve their salary soon leave. Why not make the rest of an organisation's books public?
Peter , London

Socially many people don't talk about their salary because, in many cases, as soon as people hear how much you earn, that's all they want to know about what you do for a living, so it takes the focus away from what you actually do. Also, there are a lot of liars out there who will lie about their salary to claim that they earn more than pretty much whoever they're talking to.
Karl Chads, London, England

I used to work for a large multinational. My employers were not happy when I found out that a male colleague was earning 42% more than me for doing the same job. But when I put this fact to them, they were more concerned that staff were revealing their salaries, rather than addressing workplace inequalities.
Nadine Aston, Newcastle

Putting everyone's earnings online, like in Norway, isn't a great idea. I, for one, don't want a potential girlfriend trawling through the database to see how much I'm worth before deciding whether to go out with me - especially if I earn enough to attract that kind of gold-digging! The possibilities for abuse are endless - others have already mentioned extortion.
Dave, Manchester, UK

I used to work for a company whose name I will keep secret, but every year when the company's budget was done, they issued every staff member with a printout detailing the salaries of everyone below store manager level. It seemed odd they wanted to be very open, up to a point. As an aside it was also full of nepotism and unpleasantness in that workplace. Pah.
Mulluk, Cambridge, UK

I'm glad my salary isn't in the public domain; it would only demotivate the rest of you.
Jonathan Haworth, London>

I once worked for a company for a couple of years, from the age of 17. I was on a reasonable salary for my age. Then another guy joined, doing work which was more manual, rather than the skilled IT work I was doing.

I discovered he was on more money than I was... I challenged as to why this was. It was basically because his cost of living was higher, as he had a mortgage. My response to this was simple; should I go and buy a house to get a payrise? I can't afford to buy a house because I don't get paid enough!
Russ, Windsor

So long as corporates pay people as little as they can get away with, this will be encouraged. If i knew what everyone else in my team actually earnt, i'd probably not be coming back in on Monday.
Tony, London

Where I work we have a performance related bonus scheme which is paid out as a percentage of your salary. However, I have no idea about the salaries of people who work for me which makes allocating a fair bonus an impossibility!
Frazz, Nottingham

In the world of commercial aviation and especially within the UK, most airlines will publish their pilots' payscales. You start at the bottom when you join and every year you stay with that airline you get a payrise. This is ideal as it removes the resentment that some office workers feel when they know that a colleague is being paid more even when they feel that they do not deserve the higher salary.
Lloyd Bentley, Manchester

I know that my salary doesn't match up to employees in the same area, I am a secretary and earn 11,500 a year, I have seen jobs advertised with more money and no qualifications required, talk about market value!
Sarah, Belfast

I have been lucky to live with two other guys on the same payscale as me. I have recently been 'rewarded' a 'promotion' which has moved me from existing salary to an identical one with worse average future increments. By openly discussing this with my housemates I have come to the conclusion that my reward for excellent work is being shafted in future years! I welcome transaprancy but fear that it will not necessarily make me happier in my once enjoyable job - at least not until I get this corrected - I have since sent my CV out to a recruitment agency.
Jack, North East

I couldn't care less if people knew how much I earn, it's just a number. Mine is 21.5k. Anyway, I only care about my own salary, not those of others.
Andy, Harpenden, UK

An American law lecturer in my Employment Law class a few years ago commented that in the States people happily talk about their salaries. This means that employers can not hide behind the veil of secrecy that exists here and pay people unfairly. By not talking about salaries we are helping employers to rip us all off!
Rochelle Brown, London

I work as an IT consultant and often our charge rates can be higher than salaries of company directors, politicians etc. Under no circumstances could we discuss our rates of pay with permanent counterparts.
Nicholas Collier, London

I recently found out that I was underpaid by 5k compared to my male colleagues. US women aren't as pushy as men about getting pay rises - we get suckered for it. I wish there was honesty. Perhaps we could also be honest about the quality of work that people produce.
Kerry Murdock, Reading

At my previous, small, company even though senior management explicitly asked us to keep it confidential (or perhaps because of that request) everyone freely discussed what salary they were on to the extent of imediately asking people "what did you get?" after leaving review meetings.

In my current role with a large multinational company with an allegedly transparent pay grade policy everyone is very coy about what they earn, even though the staff skill sets, responsibilites, ages etc are all almost identical.
Paul, Cambridge

This secrecy is encouraged by employers not because they're scared people will fail to co-operate with each other but because they'll begin to realise how exploited they are. Employers know many employees would be dumbfounded, incensed and insulted by the salary inconsistencies revealed. If the corporate giants put the employee above the shareholder this would be less of an issue.
Ged, Oxford, UK

What fun the Norwegian system must be. It might be interesting over here but I think that the 'executive' car manufacturers might have a few problems. Who wants to drive a flashy Mercedes when everyone knows you only earn the same as the tea boy in IT!
Rick Hough, Knutsford, Cheshire

I work in a highly meritocratic environment and certainly would not like my salary details to be revealed. (I did reveal them in a press article during my first job and really wish that I had not because of the problems it caused!) Not knowing also makes you feel like a pay rise is a reward, rather than you being brought into line with the (less able?) colleague that you work with. Surely this issue is not as important as it once was though, with debt levels rising, the CEO and receptionist my still have the same disposable income!
Deborah, London

Let's all go to Norway, look at who is the richest (or most famous....?) and try to rob them, then if you get caught they won't broadcast to everyone else who it was! Now that's democracy!
Robert, Belfast

Once again, the Norwegians outshine us all - the only reason my boss wants us to keep our salary secret is so that he can drive down the wages of new starts without anyone being aware of it.
Dave, Aberdeen

My salary is in the public domain. At my grade, salary is in the range 26,626 to 35,809.
Alan, London UK

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