12 December 2019 - Article
Last year we wrote about an equal pay claim brought by a former HR Director of the Co-op Bank and some of the issues faced by women in bringing equal pay claims. Whilst the HR Director in that case was successful, today on Equal Pay Day we reflect on yet another high profile equal pay claim and what, if anything, has changed in the last year.
Samira Ahmed’s claim against the BBC ended last week. At the heart of her claim was an allegation that she was paid £440 per episode of Newswatch, compared to the £3,000 paid to Jeremy Vine for each episode of Points of View. Even though Ms Ahmed argued that the preparation time and involvement in her show is greater than that of her male colleague in his, the BBC countered with arguments that the different genres of the two shows and the profile of the presenters justified a different level of pay. With judgment reserved we will have to wait to see which argument prevails but this demonstrates again how difficult it can be for women to identify male comparators and the arguments have to be overcome in order to win their claim.
As we noted last year another issue that needs to be overcome is an argumenta around whether or not there were other reasons for the difference in pay, such as market forces requiring a larger salary to attract or to retain talent. This too featured in the Ahmed claim with details of negotiations revealed between Jeremy Vine’s agent and the BBC. Against a backdrop of offers from other channels, Vine’s agent urged the BBC to ‘pay him properly’. This therefore begs the question as to whether talent agents are making the situation worse by negotiating higher rates of pay for male entertainers or if they are unable to negotiate better deals due to an inherent undervaluing of female talent by the industry as a whole.
The BBC is also taking steps to improve pay transparency by releasing yet more detail regarding its high earners. This level of transparency is not seen in the private sector. Whilst employees can now look at two years of gender pay gap reports, the level of detail in these reports is unlikely to be specific enough to form the basis of a claim, although it may put pressure on employers to consider the issue in more detail and report on steps that are being taken to address any gap identified.
We suggested in our article last year that employees should consider joining together to raise equal pay issues with their employer and indeed it seems that this is what 120 BBC journalists did by putting their names to a letter prepared by the National Union of Journalists.
We await the outcome of the Ahmed judgment but in the meantime the battle continues.