Coming Soon to the BBC- Equal Pay: Employment tribunal hears landmark equality case

March 5, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

BBC presenter Samira Ahmed won in the employment tribunal against the BBC, creating a landslide of possible future equal pay cases against the corporation.

What does this mean?

The judges unanimously held that Samira’s work on Newswatch, earning her just £440 per episode, was equivalent to that of Jeremy Vine on Points of View, earning £3000 per episode. The court held that there were only “minor differences” in the work the presenters did for the two comparable programmes. Under the Equality Act 2010, the BBC failed to prove that “the difference in pay was because of a material factor which did not involve subjecting Ahmed to sex discrimination”. 

Relieved to finally see the end of the proceedings, Ahmed commented, “no woman wants to have to take action against their own employer. I love working for the BBC”. Ahmed is owed almost £700,000 in back pay due to the unequal pay and has reached an undisclosed settlement with the BBC, who have decided not to appeal. 

The BBC described Ahmed as “an excellent journalist and presenter”, and that they “regret that this case ever had to go to tribunal”. They added that they will “work together with Samira to move on in a positive way”. A spokesperson said the corporation was still considering the implications of the judgment and how they will move forward.

What's the big picture effect?

This judgment could see the BBC facing a bill running into the millions for similar claims by other female staff. Caroline Underhill of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Ahmed, said, “the ball is now in the BBC’s court: they need to heed the lessons from this judgment and engage in meaningful negotiations with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) to ensure genuine pay transparency and pay equality, for all employees”.  The NUJ’s general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet, who backed Ahmed’s case, said there were about 20 other cases involving claims of unequal pay at the BBC heading to tribunal, while another 70 cases remained unresolved. 

The Equality Act 2010 establishes a right to equal pay between women and men for equal work. For a woman to claim equal pay, she needs to be able to compare her pay to a man carrying out equal work, in this case, Jeremy Vine. There has been some confusion over what constitutes “equal work” for the purposes of equal pay. Equal work is where there is: 

  • Like work – work which involves similar tasks which require similar skills and any differences in the work are not of practical importance. 
  • Work rated as equivalent – work which has been rated under a fair job evaluation scheme as being of equal value in terms of how demanding it is. 
  • Work of equal value – work which is not similar and has not been rated as equivalent, but is of equal value in terms of demands such as effort, skill and decision-making. 

A greater understanding of the law surrounding equal pay would empower more women to recognise and challenge the unequal pay in their workplace. The BBC executives have shown a new willingness to resolve outstanding cases after Ahmed’s tribunal, stating, “actually we need to put effort into resolving these outstanding cases, not putting ourselves through the self-harm of another tribunal like Samira’s”. 

Given the gravity of subject matter, and the huge implications it has for society, it is likely that we will see the effects of this judgment reaching far beyond the BBC into the wider entertainment industry.

Report written by Erin Stockdale

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