BBC presenter takes broadcaster to tribunal in equal pay case

Samira Ahmed's case against the BBC's allegedly unequal pay structures could be the first of many, say campaigners.

    Samira Ahmed was paid less than a male counterpart [Public domain/FCO]
    Samira Ahmed was paid less than a male counterpart [Public domain/FCO]

    BBC journalist Samira Ahmed has launched a legal challenge against her employers, saying she was paid a fraction of the wage earned by a male colleague doing a "very similar job".

    The presenter started proceedings on Monday at a central London employment tribunal over alleged "failure to provide equal pay for equal value work", according to court documents.

    Ahmed is asking why she was paid 465 British pounds ($598) an episode of Newswatch while Jeremy Vine, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said, was paid up to 3,000 pounds ($3,858) for each episode of Points Of View.

    Both are programmes about 15 minutes long and both are broadcast on BBC One, the British corporation's flagship channel. Ahmed described the work as comparable, while NUJ described the pay gap as "monumental".

    "The scourge of unequal pay has no place in our public service broadcaster and that's why the NUJ is backing Samira's case and many others," NUJ General-Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said in a statement issued on Sunday.

    "Unfortunately, despite Samira going through a lengthy and frustrating internal process in the hope that a sensible solution could be achieved, the BBC has not resolved this case and it will now be for the tribunal to determine whether this monumental pay gap is appropriate and defensible," she added.

    The BBC, however, argued that the two presenters were not doing similar work.

    'Defensive and resistant'

    Ahmed's case comes as up to 12 BBC staffers are preparing to launch legal challenges over unequal pay, BBC journalist Carrie Gracie said.

    180421102828703

    Former China editor Gracie resigned from her position in January 2018 in protest against pay inequalities at the broadcaster, becoming a figurehead for other women after she made the announcement in an open letter.

    Speaking to reporters at the tribunal, Gracie called those taking action "extremely brave and determined", more than a year after she was back-paid the same as the North America editor, whose job she said was comparable to hers at the time.

    She claimed management at the BBC was "defensive and resistant to admitting mistakes", and said Ahmed's case was "emblematic and extremely important to all the other women still fighting".

    "I'm aware of about a dozen cases that are in the pipeline towards a tribunal now," she said.

    "It's a slow pipe, but they are making their way towards tribunal. They've come out the end of the internal process and they are not prepared to give up at that point. These are extremely brave and determined people," she added.

    Gracie also said those bringing forward legal action did not want the cases "to be a stick with which to beat the BBC".

    "We want to draw attention by means of an important story happening inside the BBC, to draw attention to a problem which is widespread in our society," she said.

    Gracie, among a large group supporting Ahmed at the tribunal, said there was a "very high degree of solidarity" among employees at the corporation, adding: "We will not be divided and ruled."

    'Celebrating diversity'

    Ahmed arrived at the Central London Employment Tribunal building with a group of supporters, including fellow BBC presenter Naga Munchetty and members of the NUJ, which is backing the case.

    The group cheered for her as she walked inside.

    The entirety of the tribunal's first day took place in private while the two sides discussed legal arguments.
    In a statement on Sunday evening, Ahmed said: "I love my job on Newswatch despite it being difficult and challenging.

    "On the back of my BBC ID card are written the BBC values which include 'we respect each other and celebrate our diversity' and 'we take pride in delivering quality and value for money'.

    "I just ask why the BBC thinks I am worth only a sixth of the value of the work of a man for doing a very similar job."

    Vine fronted long-running factual programme Points Of View until last year.

    It has since dropped its presenter-led format and the 15-minute show is now narrated by Tina Daheley.

    Newswatch is a 15-minute programme and provides an audience-led critique of coverage by BBC One.

    Viewing figures released by the NUJ suggest that the audience for Newswatch is between 1.5 million and 1.9 million, while Points Of View has some 800,000 viewers.

    In a statement, a BBC spokesman said: "The BBC is committed to equal pay. Points Of View is an entertainment programme with a long history and is a household name with the public.

    "Newswatch - while an important programme - isn't. Samira was paid the same as her male predecessor when she began presenting Newswatch.

    "Gender has not been a factor in levels of pay for Points Of View. News and entertainment are very different markets and pay across the media industry reflects this."

    The tribunal is expected to last until next Tuesday, with the first witnesses due to be called on Wednesday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies