Thousands of Asda retail workers have won a landmark victory in the latest round of a long-running dispute with the company over equal pay.
The Court of Appeal has upheld the ruling that Asda store staff, who are mostly women, can compare their roles with higher-paid warehouse workers.
The judgment follows a three-day hearing at the Court of Appeal, which took place in October 2018.
The workers, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argue that they should be paid equally to their colleagues in the supermarket’s distribution centres for their work of equal value.
A spokesman for Asda said: “We are obviously disappointed with the decision, which relates to a preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared. Asda brought this appeal because it involved complex legal issues which have never been fully tested in the private sector and we will continue to ensure this case is given the legal scrutiny it deserves.
“We remain confident in our case. This appeal has caused no delay to the main case, which has been continuing in the employment tribunal. The tribunal has yet to consider whether the jobs are of equal value in terms of their demands; it is only if some jobs are of equal value that the tribunal will go on to consider the reasons for the pay differential between them, including the fact that there are different market rates in different industry sectors.
“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 rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centres are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender.”
The total estimate of the claims against the big four supermarkets, if they lose their cases, and are ordered to pay all eligible staff could be over £8bn, Leigh Day suggests. The £8bn figure is a calculation based on all 500,000 store workers across the big four supermarkets making a claim – not just the 30,000 the firm represents. As the legal battle continues the final figure increases and it is estimated it could be as high as £10bn, says Leigh Day.
Linda Wong, a lawyer from the employment team at Leigh Day, told Drapers: “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 pay their staff fairly, as these workers are also their customers and fair wages benefit all businesses and UK society in general.
“We call on [Asda owner] Wal-Mart to lead the change for those hard-working store staff who are their workers and the public face of Asda.”