Sainsbury’s is facing a legal pay battle from four female shop floor workers who claim they are being paid less than their male colleagues to the same job.

The four female employee’s preliminary hearing began yesterday in Birmingham. This is not the first case of an equal pay battle in major supermarket chains.

Last year a similar case occurred with female workers in the Asda chain. More than a 1,000 employees submitted tribunal complaints over being paid less than their male counterparts in the distribution warehouses.

The law firm Leigh Day, which is leading both cases, said it believed the Sainsbury’s action could be joined by thousands more.

Michael Newman, a discrimination and employment law expert at the firm, says: “This is an important case, given the amount of time equal pay legislation has been in force and the gender pay gap still exists. Sainsbury’s had a judgment against them in the 1980s and they appear not to have learned from that.

“We know supermarkets all compete on the price of a loaf of bread. It’s shocking that they are competing in terms of bad practice in terms of paying female staff.”

Both case decision will depend on whether supermarket shop floor jobs, predominately filled by women, are of equal value to the higher-paid, distribution centres, positions that have predominantly male employees.

If the Sainsbury’s workers win their case, they could have an entitlement of six years’ worth of backdated pay. Sainsbury’s would also be expected to complete a full equal pay audit of their entire workforce.

Sainsbury’s says: “We are aware of a very small number of claims in this case. We pride ourselves on being a fair employer and do not recognise discrimination of any kind in our business.”

Hannah Maundrell editor in chief of believes this issue moves beyond gender discrimination and that a greater change needs to be made in the fight for equal pay. She comments:

“This issue transcends gender; people doing the same job, with the same level of experience should be paid the same irrespective of whether they’re male or female. It’s more difficult for companies to equalise pay for jobs that require different skill sets so there’s no question that this won’t be resolved quickly, nor the last case of its kind that we see.

“While the government are taking steps to eliminate gender pay discrimination we need to harness people power to make the big change. So whoever you work for, whatever you do; stand up and make sure you’re being treated and paid as an equal to your equally expert, equally experienced peers.”


Title image credit: Elliott Brown