Asda equal pay case heads to the Supreme Court

asda equal pay supreme court
Chris Radburn/PA Wire/PA Images

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.

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.

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10 Responses to Asda equal pay case heads to the Supreme Court

  1. Avatar
    PS 3 Aug 2019 at 2:02 am #

    I’ve worked in distribution before for another supermarket and the entirety of the staff that dealt with the unloading if trucks, moving giant pallets of goods and then placing them on shelves before the store opened was male. The amount of hard work and strenuous lifting involved dwarfs anything a cashier could imagine. I’m 100% for equal pay for equal work but the job of getting things into shelves is much harder! You can’t compare starting at 5am, unloading pallets and pallets worth of items onto shelves before the store even opens to sitting on your arse for 85% of your shift!

    • Avatar
      JB 30 Aug 2019 at 11:26 pm #

      There are many roles in the stores other than checkouts. Self scan workers are standing for all their shift. Warehouse and shop floor workers are unloading pallets and pulling trollies around for up to 9 hours and operating trucks also putting pallets of stock up in the air on racking. Store workers work just as hard if not harder.

    • Avatar
      Patrick Smith 9 Sep 2019 at 9:33 am #

      Not being funny but a fork lift does all the hard work

  2. Avatar
    Jf 6 Aug 2019 at 6:09 am #

    Women these days also move, break down and put stock on shelves from pallets… Not just men!!!

  3. Avatar
    david 9 Aug 2019 at 4:48 pm #

    @PS – The value of a job doesn’t solely involve physical effort. That is very simplistic and does not in any way determine the entire demands of the job. You don’t have to deal with customers as a picker in a warehouse yet that is what shop floor staff do every day.

    So while the distribution centre will score high on physical effort, they will score very low on dealing with relationships which the shop floor will score highly on. A distribution centre operative won’t handle any cash either, a checkout operator will be handling thousands of pounds a day. far more responsibility for money than a picker

    About time the private sector got its act together on equal pay. Public sector has been using a multi factor Job Evaluation schemes for over a decade and had to go through the hurt. Private sector think they are immune to the law it seems.

  4. Avatar
    Julie s 9 Aug 2019 at 6:04 pm #

    I am one of these women who fills shelves nightly, and it is hard heavy work .

  5. Avatar
    Peter lloyd 18 Aug 2019 at 11:07 pm #

    Something wrong when people are having to fight in the courts to get equal pay at a company whose owners, the Walton family, earn more in 5 minutes than a night shift worker earns in a year. £8 an hour is an insult and should be increased immediately!

  6. Avatar
    Big Kev 26 Aug 2019 at 2:09 pm #

    I work night shift and my pallets are nightmare. Have to do 4 aisles in 7 hours. Warehouse workers come and give it a go. You’ll soon learn that I am worked more harder than you.

  7. Avatar
    C 28 Aug 2019 at 8:10 pm #

    This is just a preliminary issue. When it comes to the proper case, I don’t rate the workers’ chances.
    I can’t really see that the workers being male or female makes any difference to the case. The fact that male workers gravitate towards physical work and don’t mind operating manual handling equipment is not really the issue. It is the comparison between the duties carried out.
    I do sympathise with female workers at distribution centres having to lift the same weight as men. It does seem to make the work at the distribution centre harder for the average woman than for the average man.
    I have personally experienced seeing someone struggle to lift boxes and it was not particularly pleasant viewing. My instinct and the instinct of many men is to decide that if they are doing a hard physical job, then this is one less hard physical job that someone less physically able will need to do. Of course it is not just the ability to lift the boxes, it is to be able to lift the boxes and then be in a condition good enough to then operate electrically controlled manual handling equipment that has the potential to cause serious injury. Then factor in the need to pick correctly without mistakes. Do this for 8 hours plus, then repeat, for weeks, months, years in a room that is sitting at about 2 degrees celsius (or -25 degrees celsius if you are in the freezer).
    Whilst not disputing that shop workers may be underpaid, seeking parity with the warehouse staff doesn’t seem to be the way to achieve better pay.

  8. Avatar
    Sandra Woodward 5 Oct 2019 at 11:18 pm #

    You do realise that the stock doesn’t magic itself into the shelves in the supermarket, the freezers have to be filled, the stock has to be picked, pallets unloaded, while dealing with customers, and without forklifts?

    Instead of bitching and moaning about the grass being greener when you have to lump things around by hand, rather than with a forklift, why not show some solidarity for your even more underpaid colleagues?

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