No Strings Attached

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An Academy Award-winning actress has revealed her male co-star was paid 3 times as much as her for a film they both appeared in, the same year she was awarded a much-coveted Oscar.

David Hession, an Employment Law Solicitor with Simpson Millar, treads the red carpet in a bid to shine a spotlight on equal pay in the workplace and the wider issue of the gender pay gap.

Unequal pay – endemic at all levels

With a career that has spanned everything from a would-be child assassin in Leon to the widow of John F. Kennedy in Jackie, Natalie Portman has risen through the Hollywood ranks to achieve A-list status and a shiny Oscar for the sideboard.

But even this hasn’t precluded her from falling victim to unequal pay.

It has been revealed that for the 2011 film, No Strings Attached, she was paid less than her co-star, Ashton Kutcher, despite receiving equal billing. Portman herself made the revelation in an interview with Marie Clare magazine, stating that:

“I knew and went along with it because there’s this thing with ‘quotes’ in Hollywood. His [quote] was three times higher than mine so they said he should get three times more. […] Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar. In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

It goes to show that regardless of whether you are a Hollywood A-Lister or somebody with their feet a bit more firmly on the ground, unequal pay is endemic at all levels of the career ladder.

Legal obligation

In the UK, an employer – whether it’s a bigwig movie producer or the proprietor of a village chip shop – is legally obliged to pay the same amount to people engaged in work of an equal or predominantly similar nature, regardless of gender.

This obligation stretches beyond the sex of an employee into what are known as ‘protected characteristics’, covering:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marital or civil partnership status
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against any employee or worker because of the fact they have a particular protected characteristic.

The gender pay gap

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the average pay for full-time female employees was 9.4% lower than that for full-time male employees. The main reason for this appears to be based on the fact that women have to contend with maternity and childcare issues. Undoubtedly, this can make it much harder for them to climb the career ladder than their male colleagues.

Each year, the Fawcett Society – a charity campaigning for equality and women’s rights – announces Equal Pay Day, which is a symbolic day of the year when women cease to earn an amount relative to men. In 2016, Equal Pay Day fell on November 10th, meaning that from that day until the end of the year – when compared with men – women were effectively working for nothing.

What is equally worrying is the fact that the UK is sliding down the global scale when it comes to gender equality. Whereas 2006 saw the United Kingdom placed number 9 out of the 144 countries included in the rankings, 2016 had seen it slip to 20.

David Hession comments:

“The disparity between men and women’s pay is an ongoing concern, particularly with regards to equal pay and opportunities for promotion. Even though the laws exist in the UK to protect female workers, a significant gender pay gap still exists.”

“The government has made further efforts to eradicate this by implementing mandatory gender pay reporting, due to come into effect in April this year. Time will tell whether these regulations can have the desired effect. If not, the government may put in place more robust measures like imposing action plans or civil penalties for those employers who fail to comply with the regulations.”

“If you believe you are a victim of unequal pay, you should approach your employer to find out if it is the case and the reason(s) why. If you are unable to resolve the issue then it may be appropriate to raise a grievance with your employer. In the event that raising a grievance fails to find a satisfactory solution, you should seek legal advice from an employment law specialist, as you may be entitled to make an equal pay claim.”

“Employees at any level can bring a claim against their employer if it is shown that, because of their gender, they are unlawfully paying them less than a co-worker doing a similar job or carrying out work of equal value. You should consult with a legal adviser to make sure that any claim is brought within the statutory time limit.”

Written by David Hession.

For more information on employment law and the services offered by Simpson Millar, please call:

0808 129 3304

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