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The BBC could face spending millions of pounds to boost female broadcasters’ salaries after stars threatened action over a gender pay divide. But this story highlights how difficult it can be to define equal or similar work when trying to ensure gender pay parity, argues Orla Bingham.
It is difficult to believe that over 40 years after the enactment of the original equal pay legislation, discussions about pay inequality are still rife.
Last month, figures revealed by the BBC showed that almost two thirds of its stars earning over £150,000 are men, and its highest male earner brings home over four times as much as its highest female earner.
These revelations raised serious questions over the BBC's exposure to claims over equal pay and discriminatory pay practices.
Originally enshrined in the Equal Pay Act 1970, the right to equal pay now falls under the Equality Act 2010.
The legislation implies a "sex equality clause" in every contract of employment, which essentially means that men and women should receive equal pay when doing "equal work" for the same or associated employer.
This means the work carried out by a woman should be "the same or broadly similar" as (or work rated as "equivalent or of equal value" to) that of a man.
In the case of the BBC, for example, male and female presenters carrying out the same (or broadly similar) presenting role on the same television show should receive the same level of pay.
However, it is not always this simple. A male star will inevitably receive a greater level of annual compensation if he presents a programme more regularly than a female star, or features on a greater number of other television or radio shows across the BBC, for exam