Asda has lost an employment tribunal ruling in a case involving thousands of workers in supermarkets who sought to compare themselves with higher-paid men in distribution centres.
Equal pay in the private sector
In what is the biggest-ever equal pay case in the private sector, the claimants argued that work done in retail stores has been perceived as “women’s work” and was paid less than the work in distribution depots, traditionally seen as “men’s work”.
The decision, which followed a hearing in Manchester in June, means that more than 7,000 store workers can proceed with claims for equal pay against the Walmart-owned supermarket.
The claims could see workers recovering more than £100 million, dating back to 2002, and may now be followed by new claims from workers awaiting today’s judgment.
Asda had attempted to have the employment tribunal proceedings stayed indefinitely, which would, in effect, have made claimants pursue their case in the High Court.
Lauren Lougheed, an associate solicitor at Leigh Day, representing the Asda claimants, said: “This is a dramatic victory for the workers we represent. Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, that Asda could pay the men what they like.
We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us. We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal” – Asda statement
“However, the employment tribunal found that Asda, the employer of both men and women, could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to.
“This judgment will have far-reaching implications on other supermarket equal pay claims, including those we are bringing on behalf of around 400 Sainsbury’s workers who are in a similar situation.”
In a statement, Asda said that the decision does not determine the eventual outcome of the case. “It relates to a technical preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared.
“The tribunal has yet to consider whether the jobs are of equal value in terms of their demands and if some jobs are, only then will the tribunal move on to consider the reasons for the differentials, including the existence of different market rates in different industry sectors.
“We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us. We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal.”
The supermarket stressed that hourly paid colleagues doing the same job in the same location are paid the same, that men and women doing the same job in retail stores are paid the same and that men and women doing the same job in depots are paid the same.
“Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs in different sectors,” it added.