The Supreme Court will consider whether shop floor workers at Asda can be compared to workers in the distribution centre for the purposes of equal pay, in one of the UK’s biggest equal pay cases.
In January the Court of Appeal ruled that the roles of shop workers could be compared to those of warehouse staff, upholding rulings made by an employment tribunal in 2016 and the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2017.
Supermarket equal pay claims
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the supermarket’s latest appeal gives Asda one final chance to prove that the roles are not comparable.
Lauren Lougheed, solicitor at Leigh Day, which is representing 35,000 Asda workers, said: “It is disappointing that Asda has refused to accept the ruling of three courts on the issue of comparability. However, our clients from Asda and across all the big five supermarkets should not be disheartened, we are as determined as ever to continue their fight for equal pay.
“We hope that we can win on this issue for the fourth time in the Supreme Court, to prove once and for all that the roles are comparable, and continue on to win the overall fight for equal pay for our clients.”
The shop floor staff, who are predominantly women, argue that they should be paid equally to mainly-male distribution centre staff.
The hearing will relate to whether the roles are comparable. If the court rules that this is the case, the Asda staff will still need to demonstrate that the roles are of equal value in order to win the right to equal pay.
The first hearings to consider the equal value part of the claim took place at an employment tribunal in May and June and a judgment about the first batch of job descriptions is expected in the autumn, according to Leigh Day.
An Asda spokesperson said: “This equal value case is extremely complex and without precedent in the private sector, so it is vital the issues are given the legal scrutiny they deserve. Whatever the final outcome, the implications for UK businesses, not just in retail, will be far-reaching.
“Leigh Day have also appealed points they have lost. None of the appeals have caused any delay to the case, which continues to progress through the tribunal, but it will still take many years to conclude.
“Our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in our depots. Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centre are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender.”
Similar equal pay cases at the rest of the big five supermarkets, which also include Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and the Co-Op, are working their way through the legal system.
Leigh Day said that if all 500,000 eligible staff at the big five claim and win, the supermarkets could owe them a total of £8 billion in compensation.