Learning Lessons From The BBC Losing An Equal Pay Claim

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Samira Ahmed brought an equal pay claim against the BBC on the basis that her work on Newswatch (for which she was paid £440 per episode) was like, or of equal value, to Jeremy Vine’s work on Points of View (for which he was paid £3,000 per episode).

Under UK law, the principle is that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work (that is, like work, work rated as equivalent or work of equal value). It is a defence if the employer can show that the difference in the contractual terms is due to a material factor which is not directly or indirectly discriminatory. 

The BBC initially argued that the programmes and the presenters’ roles were not comparable. The Tribunal rejected this argument. Newswatch was a 15 minute programme providing a forum for discussion and debate viewers’ opinions about BBC news. Similarly, Points of View was a 15 minute programme airing the views of the BBC’s audience about all BBC programmes. Producers wrote the scripts for both of the programmes. The Tribunal therefore found that any differences were minor and had no impact on the work that the presenters did or the skills and experience required. The Tribunal did not consider that the difference in genre between the two programmes or the lighter tone of Points of View meant that Mr Vine’s role had additional responsibility to permit a higher rate of pay.

In respect of their defence, the burden was on the BBC to prove that the difference in pay was caused by some material factor other than the difference in sex. The BBC tried to rely on various factors to defend the difference in pay, including that the profile of the programmes, the length of time that each programme had aired for and the profile of each of the presenters. However, the Tribunal found in favour of Ms Ahmed.

The Tribunal did acknowledge that from 1 October 2018, the reason for the pay difference was the fact that Ms Ahmed had moved to a permanent staff contract. However, this was not the reason for the pay difference from 1 October 2012 to 30 September 2018 and therefore concluded that Ms Ahmed should have received equal pay during this time.

It is thought that the level of compensation awarded to Ms Ahmed could be up to £700,000 and it is not yet known whether the BBC will appeal the decision. While this case clarifies how the law should be applied, the decision serves as a reminder of the importance and benefits of having a clear and transparent process for determining pay.

If you have any questions about equal pay, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team.

Learning lessons from the BBC losing an equal pay claim

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