The long-running equal pay dispute between Asda and its shop-floor staff is to be considered by the Supreme Court this week.
Some 38,000 Asda shop floor workers, most of whom are women, claim they should be paid the same wages as distribution centre staff, who are mostly men and receive a higher hourly rate.
The Supreme Court will consider whether consider whether the shop floor staff are entitled to compare their wages to those of distribution staff for equal pay purposes. The hearing, which takes place today and tomorrow (14 July) is the last chance for Asda to argue that the roles are not comparable.
The Court of Appeal, which heard the case last year, believed the shop floor staff are entitled to compare their wages to warehouse workers’ wages, upholding the rulings of the employment tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
The outcome of the case will have a significant impact on other similar group action claims being brought by shop floor staff at other major supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Tesco and the Co-op.
It is estimated that the back pay owed to workers could total £8bn if all of the retailers lost their equal pay cases.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the Asda staff, said the case was the largest equal pay claim to ever be brought against an employer in the UK.
Commenting on the case, Adam Pennington, an employment lawyer at Stephensons, said: “This is a highly significant case not only for Asda and the 35,000 workers affected, but also for the private sector as a whole. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the employees in this case, it will open up the possibility of claims against any other employer where there is a discrepancy between the rates of pay in the depot and those found in store.
“In the last few months alone we’ve been reminded how important those working in our supermarkets really are. The hope from these workers will be that the Supreme Court finds their hard work is of equal value to those colleagues in the depot and that steps are taken to level out an uneven shop floor when it comes to wages.”
Asda said in a statement: “We welcome the opportunity to bring the equal value case to the Supreme Court. The case is extremely complex and without precedent in the private sector, so it is vital the issues are given the legal scrutiny they deserve.
“Whilst we respect the rights of retail workers to bring this case, we fundamentally disagree with its premise and will continue to make our arguments clear.
“Our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for male and female colleagues and this is equally true in our distribution centres. Retail and distribution are two different industry sectors and we pay colleagues the market rates for these sectors.”
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