Monday, 30th October 2017

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BBC journalist wins equal pay case

Ruling might trigger 20 similar legal challenges

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 12.01.20, 3:11 AM
  • Updated 12.01.20, 3:11 AM
  • 2 mins read
Samira Ahmed, who sued her employer under the Equal Pay Act (AP)

The BBC journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed is expecting to get back a reported £700,000 in lost earnings after she successfully sued her employer under the Equal Pay Act.

Samira seems possessed of a little bit of Bengali fire. On some occasions, she was accompanied to court by her mother, Lalita (née Chatterjee) who has herself worked as a presenter, chef and cooker writer and once did a TV ad for Basmati rice.

In what is seen as a landmark ruling that might trigger at least 20 other similar legal challenges, Samira, 51, took the BBC to court in October 2019, alleging that she was paid £465 for presenting each episode of Newswatch, while her male colleague Jeremy Vine received £3,000 per episode of Points of View.

Samira argued the two programmes were very similar — and the three members of the London Central Employment Tribunal, headed by Judge Harjit Grewal, have now ruled unanimously in her favour.

After her victory, Samira, who was surrounded by many women journalists from the BBC, 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.”

Bestselling novelist Margaret Atwood was among those who expressed delight at Samira’s win by tweeting: “Congratulations! @SamiraAhmedUK @equalitynow.”

Crucially, Samira had the backing of the National Union of Journalists, whose general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “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.”

Asked whether the NUJ would be seeking the total pay Samira missed out on, Stanistreet replied: “Absolutely. 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.”

The ruling 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”.

This was shot down by the tribunal: “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 light-hearted tone and any cheekiness were achieved primarily by the script being written in a particular style. The attempts at humour came from the script.”

The BBC said in a statement: “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.”

Jennifer Millins, a partner from law firm Mishcon de Reya, said that “women across all industries who believe they are not receiving equal pay may look to this case and its result and decide to take action. This is the first high-profile judgment against the BBC relating to equal pay since their ‘high earners’ list was published in 2017. It is unlikely to be the last.”