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Presenter wins equal pay case against BBC

Journalist and presenter Samira Ahmed won her equal pay claim against the BBC in a landmark case that could open the floodgates to similar claims from other staff.  An employment tribunal unanimously concluded that the BBC had not provided adequate evidence that the pay gap was based on anything other than gender discrimination. The BBC, however, continues to dispute this.

Ms Ahmed, the presenter of Newswatch, claimed she was owed almost £700,000 in back pay because of the difference between her £440 per episode fee and the £3,000 an episode that Jeremy Vine was paid for fronting the similar Points of View programme.

Newswatch versus Points of View

The programmes in the spotlight were both 15 minutes long, featured audience feedback and the presenter read from an auto-cue. However, the BBC argued that the programmes were actually very different. The BBC claimed Mr Vine’s role required him to have a “glint in the eye”. For this, the BBC said the role required extra skill and experience. They also said that “specific market pressures” required Mr Vine to be paid more.

However, the tribunal rejected this argument and ruled that the presenting roles were “virtually the same”. It also dismissed the broadcaster’s claim that presenting Points of View took extra skill. In its rather damning judgment, the tribunal concluded that “the attempts at humour came from the script. Jeremy Vine read the script from the auto-cue. He read it in the tone in which it was written. If it told him to roll his eyes he did. It did not require any particular skill or experience to do that.” The employment tribunal concluded that there were only “minor differences” between the work of the two presenters.

BBC’s claims dismissed

During the tribunal, the BBC played down the audience for its own rolling news channel. It argued that Ms Ahmed’s programme was made for what they described as a “relatively niche” service. They said it shouldn’t be considered in the same league as Points of View, aired on BBC One.

The judgement report, however, concluded that under the Equality Act the BBC “has not shown that the difference in pay was because of a material factor which did not involve subjecting [Ahmed] to sex discrimination.” The tribunal also dismissed the BBC’s claim that Vine’s £3,000-an-episode fee was the market rate for such a high-profile star. “The evidence indicates the contrary. Jeremy Vine was paid above the market rate payable for him for Points of View.”

Legal bill

The judgement did not outline whether Ms Ahmed would receive the money she had claimed in back-pay; but while the BBC can appeal, it said it was still considering its options and the implications of appealing.  However, if the cooperation chooses not to appeal, it could face a huge legal bill and considerable costs. There will also be the possibility of other large settlements on the horizon as other female BBC staff bring their own equal pay claims.

The general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ms Stanistreet, told The Guardian that there were around 20 other unequal pay claims at the BBC on their way to employment tribunal. A further 70 cases were still unresolved. However, Ms Stanistreet is hopeful that these other cases will be resolved soon following the outcome of this case. She said: “Some of them have already been satisfactorily resolved but there are still more to sort out.”

Ruling not a precedent, say BBC

Although the corporation is still considering the verdict, the BBC says it does not see it as a blanket ruling. While it dismisses the idea that it will set a broader precedent, it suggested it could still fight other pay tribunal cases. The BBC also emphasised that the verdict was based on tribunal judges failing to be convinced by the evidence put forward to justify the difference in pay on grounds other than gender. For instance, the judges were not convinced by the quality of the BBC’s evidence that Vine was especially popular when he was offered £3,000 a show in 2008.

Pay disclosure

Forcing open pay disclosure on the BBC has already had a significant effect on rates for women. Many of the BBC’s female staff have received increases since figures for the corporation’s top staff were first revealed in 2017.

Ms Underhill from Thompsons Solicitors represented Ms Ahmed at the tribunal. She said: “The ball is now in the BBC’s court: they need to heed the lessons from this judgement and engage in meaningful negotiations with the NUJ to ensure genuine pay transparency and pay equality, for all employees. Today’s judgement helpfully clarifies some of the fault lines in the BBC’s pay structure that can – taking into account the facts of each individual case – be used to support or advance other potential claims against them.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We’ll need to consider this judgement carefully. We know tribunals are never a pleasant experience for anyone involved. We want to work together with Samira to move on in a positive way.”

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