The pay gap between men and women is a hot topic, as Asda supermarket workers win a significant victory and a Morrisons group begins legal action.
Four of the UK’s supermarket chains – Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – now all face claims from upwards of 35,000 workers. These are mostly women alleging they were unlawfully paid less than male workers for doing work of equal value.
The Court of Appeal has upheld earlier rulings that Asda shop floor jobs, mainly carried out by women, are comparable to those in the supermarket chain’s depots, mainly carried out by men.
This comparison is the first step in proving that the shop floor workers were paid less simply because of their gender.
Asda, which has fought the legal action from the start, questioned whether female employees could compare themselves for the purposes of the Equal Pay Act 1970, to male employees when they worked in different parts of the supermarket’s business.
Handing down judgement in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Underhill ruled that for both retail workers and distribution workers “Asda applied common terms and conditions wherever they worked”. In other words, the jobs were capable of being compared in law.
The shop floor workers must now prove that their work actually is of equal value to those of the depot workers. If they succeed, their employer will need a good reason – in other words, not a discriminatory reason – why these women should not be paid the same as the men.
Although there is still a long way to go, the Asda case is already looking like a significant victory for lower-paid store staff in their battle over equal pay.
If similar cases against all four supermarkets are successful they could be forced to pay out an estimated total of £8 billion in back pay, bonus payments, holidays and sick leave to thousands of current and former employees.