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The case of Ahmed v BBC involves a television presenter Samira Ahmed, who brought a successful equal pay claim against the BBC.
Equality law states that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. This is achieved by implying into a woman’s employment contract a “sex equality clause”, which replaces less favourable terms in her contract with the more favourable terms of a comparable man’s contract.
Ms Ahmed had worked for the BBC as a reporter and presenter in the 1990s, before returning to the BBC nine years later in 2012. She presented Newswatch for a fee of £440 per programme. Each programme lasted 15 minutes and gave viewers of BBC news the opportunity to discuss and debate their opinions.
Ms Ahmed claimed that her work as a Newswatch presenter was equal to the work of a male presenter, Jeremy Vine, who presented Points of View. Points of View was also a 15-minute programme, which presented audience views on all BBC programmes. Mr Vine was paid £3,000 per programme. On this basis, Ms Ahmed made a claim for equal pay.
Did the jobs of Ms Ahmed and Mr Vine involve like work? Yes. It was found that their work was the same or very similar. Any differences were minor and did not impact the work done or the experience and skills they required.
Could the BBC prove that there was a factor other than the presenters’ difference in sex, which explained their difference in pay? The implied sex equality clause does not operate if the employer can show that the difference in contractual terms is due to a material factor that is not directly or indirectly sex discriminatory. It may also be possible for an employer to objectively justify an indirectly discriminatory material factor, and therefore defend an equal pay claim.
The BBC was unsuccessful in its attempt to explain the difference in pay from October 2012 to September 2018 with six factors addressed. The Employment Tribunal was not persuaded that the pay difference was caused by a difference in the profile of the programmes involved, and nor by a difference in the profiles, audience recognition, or experience of the presenters. The BBC also failed to show that it had considered the market rates payable for the presenters. Mr Vine’s pay for Points of View was negotiated after he had agreed a three-year deal to work exclusively for the BBC, so his high rate of pay was not needed to retain him because he could not have worked elsewhere. In turn, the fact that Ms Ahmed had been paid the same as her less experienced predecessor indicated that her profile had not determined her pay. The role of each presenter was likely to have been at the same level.
In contrast, from October 2018 onwards, it was accepted by the Tribunal that any difference in pay could be explained by Ms Ahmed moving to a permanent staff contract.
This case is an important reminder of the consequences of equality law. Ms Ahmed may now be awarded up to £700,000 in compensation.