Equal pay claims at the UK’s biggest retailers are likely to escalate after it emerged last week that Tesco is facing a potential bill of up to £4 billion in back pay for thousands of employees.
A law firm has launched legal action on behalf of nearly 100 shop assistants who say they earn as much as £3 an hour less than male warehouse workers in similar roles.
Up to 200,000 shopfloor staff could be affected by the claim, which could cost Tesco up to £20,000 per worker in back pay over at least six years.
Tesco warehouse staff earn from about £8.50 an hour up to more than £11 an hour while store staff earn about £8 an hour in basic pay, according to the claim. The disparity could mean a full-time distribution worker earning over £5,000 a year more than store-based staff.
The legal firm behind the action, Leigh Day, has begun submitting claims through Acas, the conciliation service, as the first step before heading to the employment tribunal.
The case follows similar disputes over equal pay at Asda and Sainsbury’s which are working their way through the employment tribunal process.
Almost 20,000 people are involved in the Asda case, and about 1,000 workers are involved in the Sainsbury’s action.
Paula Lee, a Leigh Day lawyer who is representing the Tesco women, said:
“We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years.
“There might be lifting and carrying in the distribution centre but there is also lifting and carrying in shops as well as dealing with customers asking questions and handling money.”
Tesco said it would consider any changes to pay in partnership with Usdaw, the trade union which represents the majority of its shopfloor staff.
The supermarket said it was yet to receive details of any claim. Tesco said:
“We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received. Tesco has always been a place for people to get on in their career, regardless of their gender, background or education, and we work hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid fairly and equally for the jobs they do.”
The move comes a day after the court case relating to Tesco’s accounting scandal collapsed
Commenting on Tesco reportedly facing the UK’s largest ever equal pay claim, Crowley Woodford, employment partner at law firm Ashurst, said:
“The Tesco employees are trying to capitalise on the success of the Asda ruling which found that female shop floor workers could compare their pay to predominately male distribution workers. If the Tesco employees are equally successful then all major retailers, and indeed businesses more generally, could be exposed to a tidal wave of equal pay litigation.”