Asda workers win Supreme Court fight for equal pay

Asda bosses have lost a Supreme Court equal pay fight with store workers.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 11:05 am

More than 40,000 Asda store workers, about two-thirds of whom are women, brought equal pay claims after complaining that staff working in distribution depots unfairly get more money.

Asda chiefs said store jobs were not comparable to distribution centre jobs.

The store workers, who are represented by law firm Leigh Day, made sex discrimination claims, saying they historically got less because most store workers are women while most distribution depot staff are men.

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An Asda store

Lawyers representing the store workers say distribution depot workers get between £1.50 and £3.00 an hour more.

Supreme Court justices were asked to consider whether Asda store workers are entitled to compare themselves to distribution staff for equal pay purposes.

Judges ruled against Asda bosses on Friday after considering arguments at a hearing in July.

Lawyers say the ruling will have implications for supermarkets and other retailers.

In 2016, an employment tribunal decided that store workers were entitled to compare themselves to distribution staff and that decision was upheld by Court of Appeal judges in 2019.

Asda bosses then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Lawyers say the store workers’ fight will not end, and litigation could run on for years.

They say the next stage would involve an employment tribunal deciding whether specific store and distribution jobs were of “equal value”.

If judges decided that different jobs were of “equal value”, the litigation would then enter a third stage.

Lawyers say an employment tribunal would then consider whether there were reasons – other than gender – why people working in stores should not get the same pay rates as people working in distribution centres.

The decision has implications for Tesco and all supermarkets facing equal pay claims.

It is estimated that as many as 584,000 current supermarket workers and an unknown number of former workers could be entitled to back pay at the UK’s four main supermarkets, resulting in a potential total pay-out of up to £10bn.

The biggest claim is against Tesco, which employs around 250,000 people in its UK stores.

The Tesco Action Group is the largest group of workers fighting the multi-million pound claim against Tesco. The group is championed by Pay Justice, the organisation dedicated to fighting for equality in the workplace, and leading campaigning law firm Harcus Sinclair UK Limited. The Tesco campaign is part of Harcus Sinclair’s Equal Pay Action initiative.

Emily Fernando of Harcus Sinclair said: "This was a significant decision for the claimants involved in the case against Asda, as well as those bringing claims against Tesco and other supermarkets.

"The judgment makes it harder for the supermarkets to argue that it is not possible to compare store and distribution workers. This may mean the other supermarket cases proceed to a final hearing more quickly."

Christine Sepahi, who worked for Tesco for over 25 years and sits on the Tesco Action Group committee, said: "This is an excellent result and, we hope, the next step in bringing Tesco and the other supermarkets to account for years of underpaying and undervaluing the contribution of store workers."

Tesco Action Group can be found at: www.equalpayaction.com.

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