Co-op has conceded that shop floor staff in its supermarkets can be compared to distribution centre employees for the purposes of determining equal pay.
It is the final supermarket chain involved in a long-running equal pay battle to acknowledge that the two roles are comparable, according to law firm Leigh Day which is representing 1600 Co-op workers who are bringing an equal pay claim.
Comparability is the first stage in the three-step legal process for equal pay claims. Co-op will now have to show that the roles are not of equal value, or that the pay difference is not based on gender, in order to defend the claim.
Leigh Day – which is representing thousands of shop floor staff in equal pay claims against supermarkets including Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – has argued that the work carried out by mostly-female retail staff is just as demanding as the work carried out by distribution centre workers, who are mostly male.
The rate of pay for warehouse staff is higher than shop floor workers’ pay in most major retailers.
Employment solicitor Tom Hewitt said: “Leigh Day is delighted to be able to tell Co-op staff that they have cleared the first hurdle in their claims for equal pay.
“We hope that Co-op recognises that they can no longer deny that the work that store workers do is of equal value to that of their distribution centre colleagues.”
A Co-op spokesperson said: “Our colleagues play an important role in feeding the nation and it’s central to the Co-op’s values that we pay them fairly for the work that they do in supporting communities. We believe that we pay our colleagues fairly for the roles that they do, and so will continue to defend these claims.”
In March 2021, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark judgment in the equal pay case brought against Asda, ruling that shop floor staff can be compared to warehouse workers.
This was followed by a case involving Tesco in the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled that a worker can compare their role with somebody working in a different establishment if a “single source” can correct the difference in pay. It also ruled that workers can rely directly on equal pay rights set out in European law, over and above domestic law.
Next and Sainsbury’s have also conceded on the issue of comparability in the equal pay claims they face, while an employment tribunal in September 2021 ruled that Morrisons workers can compare their roles.