BBC presenter’s “stardust” not a defence to equal pay claims

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What happened?

The tribunal heard Ms Ahmed, the presenter of the BBC News 24 show Newswatch, claim that she was underpaid in her role by £700,000. This figure was reached by comparing her salary with that of Jeremy Vine, the presenter of Points of View on BBC1. It emerged that Jeremy Vine received £3,000 per episode of Points of View between 2008 and 2018, whilst Samira Ahmed was being paid a mere £440 per episode of Newswatch.

Equal work, equal pay?

Equal pay claims can be brought forward by an employee regardless of their length of service. It also doesn’t matter whether they’re employed on a part-time, full-time basis or a casual/temporary worker.

Additionally, an individual bringing an equal pay claim must be able to compare the terms of their contract with those of an actual comparator who: (1) undertakes the same or similar work; (2) undertakes work of equal value; or (3) undertakes work which is rated equivalent under a relevant job evaluation scheme.

In this case, Ms Ahmed’s work of presenting Newswatch was comparable with Jeremy Vine’s work of presenting Points of View, on the basis that both jobs are essentially the same, despite there being differences in presentational style and content.

Who carries the burden of proof?

Having established that Jeremy Vine was undertaking the same work as Samira Ahmed for equal pay purposes, the burden of proof fell on the BBC to prove that the difference in pay was not down to sex.

The BBC tried to argue that the difference in pay was due to Jeremy Vine’s greater profile and that Points of View reached a larger audience than Newswatch, and that £3,000 was the market rate for a high-profile star.

What was decided?

The tribunal was unanimous in finding that the BBC had failed to successfully argue these points. It concluded that the difference in pay was due to gender and that Jeremy Vine was paid above the market rate for the work. Accordingly, the claim succeeded.

What are the implications?

It has been a long-held belief amongst broadcasters that the profile and fame of those presenting were valid justifications for paying vastly different salaries between its presenters.

By casting this assumption in doubt, this judgement could prove to be a huge boost for those working to close the gender pay gap, and have far reaching consequences for broadcasters and the wider TV journalism and entertainment industry.

It will certainly act as encouragement for other women to bring similar claims in their respective employment.  It is reported that there at least 20 other claims awaiting a tribunal hearing against the BBC, while 70 others remain unresolved.  It therefore remains to be seen if the BBC decides to appeal this ruling.