January 2020 was a good start for equal pay for women at the BBC. Sarah Montague received a settlement of £400,000 and an apology for sex discrimination in pay, which was lower than that of her male counterparts.

Ms Montague presents the World at One show on Radio 4. She had been working for the BBC for more than 20 years. She did not full compensation (which could run into millions) but some recognition for the gender disparity that she was underpaid as a woman.

Earlier this month, the Employment Tribunal found in favour of Samira Ahmed, who claimed that the BBC underpaid her £700,000. She hosts Newswatch. She compared her wage with Jeremy Vine, who hosted Points of View on a salary six times greater than hers.  As these two shows have very different styles and formats, how could the Tribunal make the comparison?

For equal pay claims, the comparator does not necessarily have the same job as the complainant. She (or he) needs to show that they are:

  • Doing a similar job
  • Doing work that has been rated as “equivalent”, or in the same grade
  • Doing work of “equal value”, where jobs might be different but require a similar level of skills

The employer argued that there was no sex discrimination in pay because the profile of the shows and its two presenters were different. It cited research that 71% of people recognised Vine, whereas only 21% recognised Ahmed.

But the employment judge said the BBC had failed to prove that this explained away the pay difference. Skills and experience are vital factors in the assessment, but the tribunal noted that subjective factors such as being “cheeky” and having a “glint in the eye” were not enough for Mr Vine to justify such a wage disparity, either.

Employers need to be vigilant with the wages to their employees. Transparency in the calculation of wages is a must.

By David Liu