Asda shopworkers win landmark ruling in equal pay dispute

Appeal court backs lower-paid store staff in claim that could cost supermarkets £8bn

Asda shopworkers have won a significant victory in the latest round of a long-running legal battle over equal pay, which could result in supermarkets facing an estimated £8bn payout.

The court of appeal ruled Asda’s lower-paid store staff, who are mainly female, can compare themselves to higher-paid warehouse workers, who are mainly male, in pay claims.

Lawyers representing tens of thousands of store staff hailed the ruling as “a major step forward in the fair pay battle on behalf of tens of thousands of store workers”.

Walmart-owned Asda had already lost attempts to block the claims at the employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal, but had appealed. The supermarket will apply to the supreme court for permission to appeal.

Handing down Thursday’s judgment, which followed a three-day hearing in October, Lord Justice Underhill ruled that for both retail workers and distribution workers “Asda applied common terms and conditions wherever they worked”.

The workers, represented by the law firm Leigh Day through the website, have argued they should be paid the same as their colleagues in the supermarket’s distribution centres for their work of equal value.

Leigh Day claims to represent more than 30,000 shopfloor staff from the big four supermarkets – Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons – in similar pay cases. The total payout, if the supermarkets lose, could be more than £8bn, said Leigh Day.

The £8bn estimate is based on all 500,000 store workers across the big four supermarkets who are making a claim, it added. The largest number of claimants is against Tesco, with the Tesco Action Group made up of present and former employees represented by Equal Pay Action through the law firm Harcus Sinclair.

Thursday’s victory, which established that the roles are comparable, is the first step in proving the shopworkers’ claims.

The staff must now prove the roles are of equal value, and if so whether there is a reason other than sex discrimination that means the roles should not be paid equally.

The Asda case is the furthest along of all the supermarket equal pay claims.

Linda Wong from Leigh Day said: “Our clients are obviously delighted to have won this major victory against Asda and we now hope that rather than continuing to spend huge sums of money thwarting attempts to pay their staff what they are worth, Asda and the other major supermarkets will pay their staff fairly as these workers are also their customers and fair wages benefit all businesses and UK society in general.”

Asda said it was “obviously disappointed” with the ruling, which dealt with a “preliminary issue” in the legal battle. It said it remained confident in its case as it continued in the employment tribunal.

The supermarket said: “At Asda, our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in our depots. Pay rate in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in store and the jobs in distribution centres are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rates in those sectors regardless of gender.”


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Asda equal pay dispute goes to UK supreme court in virtual hearing
Retailer wants justices to overturn verdict to pay shop workers same as depot staff

Joanna Partridge

13, Jul, 2020 @7:34 PM

Article image
Asda urged to drop equal pay challenge and raise shop-floor wages
Employment appeal tribunal backs ruling that store staff do jobs comparable to mostly male warehouse workers

Sarah Butler

31, Aug, 2017 @2:20 PM

Article image
Tesco equal pay claim could cost supermarket up to £4bn
Lawyers say female shopfloor workers earn up to £3 an hour less than male warehouse staff

Sarah Butler

07, Feb, 2018 @12:01 AM

Article image
Asda faces £100m equal pay battle with shopfloor staff
Tribunal rules thousands of women who work in retailer’s stores can lodge claim over alleged gender pay gap

Hilary Osborne

14, Oct, 2016 @4:27 PM

Article image
Former Co-op director says she was sacked after equal pay claim
Exclusive: Sam Walker tells tribunal she warned of possible company-wide salary gap

Alexandra Topping and Josh Halliday

14, Aug, 2018 @1:59 PM

Article image
Supreme court rules against Asda in workers' equal pay case
Ruling says shop workers, who are mostly women, can compare work to those in distribution centre

Sarah Butler

26, Mar, 2021 @10:09 AM

Article image
Asda faces mass legal action from staff over equal pay
Mostly female Asda shopfloor workers say they are paid less than mostly males colleagues working in warehouses

Rupert Neate

24, Oct, 2014 @5:36 PM

Article image
Supermarket staff could win millions in equal pay cases
Test cases being brought by 400 workers against Asda in a major test of equal job evaluation in the private sector

Caroline Davies and Sarah Butler

11, Apr, 2014 @7:00 PM

Article image
Equal pay battle heads to the supreme court
Test case bought by dinner ladies and care workers against Sheffield city council to be heard next month

Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent

01, Sep, 2011 @1:01 PM

Article image
Women in mid-30s may never know equal pay in their working lives
More than 40% of working women worried about impact of Covid on job prospects

Alexandra Topping

20, Nov, 2020 @6:00 AM