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BBC faces more equal pay cases as Samira Ahmed wins tribunal victory

Journalist, writer and broadcaster Samira Ahmed (PA)
Journalist, writer and broadcaster Samira Ahmed (PA)

Broadcaster Samira Ahmed has won her sex discrimination equal pay claim against the BBC, with the corporation facing dozens more cases.

In a “unanimous judgment” published on Friday, an employment tribunal in London found that the Newswatch presenter should have been paid the same as fellow presenter Jeremy Vine.

Ms Ahmed asked why she was paid £465 per episode of Newswatch while Vine was paid up to £3,000 for each episode of Points Of View, work she described as comparable.

Ms Ahmed said in a statement issued through the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) that she was “glad” the issue had been resolved.

She said: “No woman wants to have to take action against their own employer. I love working for the BBC. I’m glad it’s been resolved.

“I’m now looking forward to continuing to do my job, to report on stories and not being one.”

She also tweeted a thank you note, writing: “Very important. I’d like to thank the judge and panel members of my employment tribunal for their time and consideration and their judgement. Thankyou.”

She added her thanks for the “kind words” she had received, saying that she was a “bit overwhelmed”.

Ms Ahmed also thanked “all those who showed they understand equal pay is about fairness and men and women as allies”.

Following the ruling, Ms Ahmed appeared outside the BBC’s headquarters in London alongside the NUJ’s general secretary Michelle Stanistreet.

Stanistreet hailed the ruling as a “resounding victory”, and said that they would be seeking the total pay Ms Ahmed missed out on, a figure previously reported to be nearly £700,000.

She said: “The schedule of loss is very clear and we are looking forward to that being settled. We don’t know yet whether the BBC will exercise its right to appeal. I hope they don’t. It would be a monumental waste of licence fee payers’ money. But we will be meeting with the BBC next week and hopefully common sense will prevail, this will be resolved, Samira gets her settlement and she can move on.”

Ms Stanistreet said the BBC was currently looking at roughly 20 other cases like Ms Ahmed’s.

She explained: “There are probably around 20 in the pipeline of the actual tribunal system but there are many more that remain unresolved, possibly as many as 70 at the time of the hearing.

“But actually, to be fair, since the hearing I met with the BBC and I pressed them to use this window of opportunity to think, ‘Actually we need to put effort into resolving these outstanding cases, not putting ourselves through the self-harm of another tribunal like Samira’s’ and some of them have already been satisfactorily resolved. But there are still more to sort out.”

Caroline Underhill of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Ms Ahmed as instructed by the NUJ, said: “This important decision is a warning shot to the BBC that complacency around pay inequity is unacceptable, and will not go unchallenged.

“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 NUJ to ensure genuine pay transparency, and pay equality, for all employees.”

Opposing her claim, the BBC had argued that the two presenters were not doing similar work.

The corporation said that Newswatch was a “relatively niche” programme which aired on the BBC News channel, while describing Points Of View as “extremely well-known”.

However, the “unanimous judgment” from the tribunal stated that the BBC has “not shown that the difference in pay was because of a material factor which did not involve subjecting the Claimant to sex discrimination (Section 69(1) of Equality Act 2010)”.

The document further noted that “the difference in this pay case is striking. Jeremy Vine was paid more than six times what the claimant was paid for doing the same work as her. There needs to be clear evidence about what the case of that difference was”.

It also stated that the BBC had “found itself in difficulties” because of a lack of a “transparent and consistent process for evaluating and determining pay for its on-air talent”.

The document said that the work Ms Ahmed and Vine did while presenting their respective programmes was “the same or, if not the same, very similar”.

It referenced the BBC’s argument that the “lighter tone of Points Of View and the occasional attempts to be humorous meant that different skills were required to present it. The presenter of Points Of View needed to have a “glint in the eye” and to be “cheeky”.

The document noted: “We had difficulty in understanding what the respondent meant by a ‘glint in the eye’ and how that translated into a ‘skill’ or ‘experience’ to do a job. How does one acquire such a skill or experience? In any event, the lighthearted tone and any cheekiness were achieved primarily by the script being written in a particular style. The attempts at humour came from the script.”

When approached by the PA news agency, Mr Vine declined to comment.

Responding to the decision, the BBC said that Ms Ahmed “is an excellent journalist and presenter, and we regret that this case ever had to go to tribunal”.

A statement continued: “We’re committed to equality and equal pay. Where we’ve found equal pay cases in the past we’ve put them right. However, for us, this case was never about one person, but the way different types of programmes across the media industry attract different levels of pay.

“We have always believed that the pay of Samira and Jeremy Vine was not determined by their gender. Presenters – female as well as male – had always been paid more on Points of View than Newswatch.

“We’re sorry the tribunal didn’t think the BBC provided enough evidence about specific decisions – we weren’t able to call people who made decisions as far back as 2008 and have long since left the BBC.

“In the past, our pay framework was not transparent and fair enough, and we have made significant changes to address that; we’re glad this satisfied the tribunal that there was sufficient evidence to explain her pay now.

“We’ll need to consider this judgment 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.”