Thousands of Boots in-store employees in England, Scotland and Wales could be eligible to join an equal pay claim against the high street giant. If the case is successful, Boots could owe their in-store employees more than £100m in back pay.
So far more than 550 current and former mostly female employees of the retailer have signed up to the legal action through solicitor Roscoe Reid, in partnership with Pay Justice. Many more are expected to join, according to the law firm, which represents claimants involved in a similar case with Morrisons and has achieved settlements in equal pay cases against Birmingham and Glasgow councils.
Supermarket equal pay claims
The claim is on the grounds that in-store staff, the vast majority of whom are women, are paid less than the business’s predominantly male warehouse workers. Campaigners, with past and present employees of Boots have calculated that in-store staff are paid £0.73 less per hour than their distribution centre co-workers. This is in breach of the Equality Act 2010, which states that men and women should be paid equally for jobs of equal value, claimed campaign group Pay Justice.
Research by Pay Justice found that many Boots in-store staff – men and women – agreed that their roles entailed the same amount of effort as warehouse staff. A claimant who has worked in a Boots store for 15 years said: “Our job is quite physical, cages come in and we have to unload them. It’s quite heavy work, actually. A lot of it is customer service, but now, around Christmas, we have pallets to unload, so the work is quite manual. You’re given more and more work to do and there’s not enough hours in the day to do it, because of the staff cuts.”
Another added: “I had no idea that the distribution workers were being paid more than us.”
Lead lawyer at Roscoe Reid, Ellie Pinnells, told Personnel Today that 73p might not sound a lot of money [at Morrisons, for example, the difference is around £1.50 per hour] but for staff who have worked at Boots for several years it represented a large amount of lost income.
Pinnells added that equal pay cases were being held up to some extent by the attitude of Asda, which being owned by US giant Walmart, had been fighting every point and appealing every judgment. She said: “They’ll be a kind of slipstream behind the Asda case,” which is currently waiting for a Supreme Court ruling.
Roscoe Reid and Pay Justice hope that retailers will eventually settle with the claimants and commit to job evaluations, rewarding staff fairly. “If I was Boots I’d do that now then settle on the back of it,” she said.
She told Personnel Today that, initially, people felt uncomfortable suing their own employer but as more people come forward the feeling of protection in numbers operates. “The ones who have left Boots already don’t mind coming forward,” she added. The problems facing all high street retailers had made people fearful of losing their jobs, she added, but it was wrong to think that claiming fair pay could lead to that being more likely.
“I can’t believe we’ve had equal pay since the 1970 Act and women are still undervalued and underpaid,” said Pinnells. “We’ll fight hard for those who have been treated unfairly to obtain justice.”
If successful, claimants could see winnings in the thousands, all worked out according to individualised calculations.
The Boots case is one in a series of equal pay claims run against big brands like Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Next.
Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “We repeatedly see cases where male-dominated jobs are paid more than those done by women, yet without any objective justification which can stand up to any scrutiny.
“Arguably, customer-facing roles should be paid more not less than warehouse staff. It all comes back to who and what we value and we see women consistently undervalued and underpaid. These women are absolutely right to challenge it and I suspect they will win.”
Boots, which employs about 54,000 people in 2,465 stores, 606 Boots Opticians practices, and 512 Boots Hearingcare locations, has been contacted by Personnel Today for a comment.