A Manchester Employment Tribunal has ruled that female employees based within Asda supermarkets can compare themselves to male staff who work in the retailer’s distribution centres.
Around 7,000 former and current Asda employees are bringing an equal pay claim against the retailer. The claimants, who are mostly female, argue that they the value of the work they carry out in stores is equal to that carried out by employees based in depots, who are largely male, and that they should be paid accordingly.
If successful, the claimants could recover more than £100 million in back payments stretching back to 2002.
Lauren Lougheed, employment lawyer at Leigh Day, the law firm representing the Asda claimants, said: “This is a dramatic victory for the workers we represent. Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, that Asda could pay the men what they liked.
“However, the employment tribunal found that Asda, the employer of both men and women, could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to. This judgement will have far reaching implications on other supermarket equal pay claims.”
An Asda spokesperson said: “This decision by the employment tribunal does not determine the eventual outcome of the case. It relates to a technical preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared. The tribunal has yet to consider whether the jobs are of equal value in terms of their demands and if some jobs are, only then will the tribunal move on to consider the reasons for the differentials, including the existence of different market rates in different industry sectors.
“We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us. We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal.
“At Asda, hourly-paid colleagues doing the same job in the same location are paid the same. Men and women doing the same job in our retail stores are paid the same. Men and women doing the same job in our distribution centres are paid the same. Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs in different sectors.”