Every Little (Claim) Helps: Tesco under fire over unequal pay

November 1, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

One of the UK’s largest supermarkets, Tesco, has come under fire over the last 5 years as 5,000 claimants bring equal pay claims against the supermarket. These claims may result in £2.5 billion of backpay, with each claimant potentially receiving £10,000.

Tesco is not the only supermarket facing backlash against pay discrimination; Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury and Co-op are all battling ongoing cases.

What does this mean?

Predominantly female shop floor assistants have filed claims against Tesco for paying their mostly male distribution workers an average of £3 more. The Equality Act 2010 ensures the right to equal pay for women and men for equal work. If it is found that the nature of the work is comparable and of equal value, the difference in pay rate will likely be ruled unlawful. However, Tesco argues that the nature of the work demands different skills which justify the variation in pay rate, strongly denying that the allegations are gender related. A Tesco spokesperson asserts that the supermarket “works hard to ensure that they reward their colleagues fairly for the jobs they do”. The first court hearing is scheduled for 2020 and is being brought by law firms Leigh Day and Harcus Parker.

Leigh Day is currently representing other claimants from the Big 4 supermarkets, including Asda. In January this year, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling that Asda store staff could compare their roles with those working in the supermarket’s distribution centres. This judgement is monumental for Asda employees as well as those from other supermarkets facing similar cases. 

Equal pay cases have three main stages: 

  1. Are the roles comparable? 
  2. If the roles are comparable, are they of equal value? 
  3. If they are of equal value, is there a reason other than sex discrimination that means the roles should not be paid equally? 

This ruling has forged the path for similar cases such as Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. Solicitor Lauren Lougheed has stated that Leigh Day is “committed to continuing their fight for equal pay for all their supermarket clients”.

What's the big picture effect?

The outcomes of the Tesco and Asda cases have the potential to promote equality and challenge how large retailers pay their employees in different business areas. The complexity and the lack of precedent in the private sector means it is highly important that these cases are given the legal scrutiny that they deserve. Regardless of the final outcome, the implications of the ruling will impact all UK businesses, not just retailers. Felicity Staff, solicitor at Taylor Wessing, predicts that the outcome could have a knock-on effect on the hospitality industry given, for example, the pay differences between waiters and chefs.

The legal landscape is becoming increasingly difficult for claimants: equal pay claims must now be launched on individual claim forms which burden the tribunal system with administrative work. The rise in large scale claims will highlight the issues with the current claims system and may have the potential to revolutionise the process.

Report written by Emily Noble

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