Asda workers have gained a “dramatic victory” that could impact on future rulings on equal pay.
An employment tribunal has ruled that lower-paid women who work in Asda stores can compare themselves with higher-paid men who work in Asda’s distribution centres.
More than 7,000 current and former store workers, most of whom are female, are arguing they were paid less than others within the organisation despite carrying out roles of equal value. The group is represented by law firm Leigh Day.
At a hearing in Manchester last week, Employment Judge Ryan ruled the Asda employees can proceed with their claims. If successful, they could recover more than £100m dating back to 2002, and it could pave the way for more claims.
Lauren Lougheed, an employment lawyer from Leigh Day, said the case could have “far-reaching implications” for other retailers.
“This is a dramatic victory for the workers we represent,” she added. “Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, it could pay the men what they like.
“However, the employment tribunal found that Asda could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to.”
Audrey Williams, employment law partner at law firm Fox Williams, said it is advisable for other retailers who may have occupational groups with distinct gender profiles to check that they are not vulnerable to these types of claims.
“It is not just large organisations that can be vulnerable,” she added. “It only takes one person with this type of claim so can be applied to smaller retailers, too.”
Tim Roache, general secretary of trade union GMB, urged Asda to act quickly: “Over the last three years GMB has repeatedly brought the issue of equal pay to the negotiating table with Asda bosses, this legal ruling shows we were right to do so and that action needs to be taken immediately,” he said.
Asda said it strongly disputes the claims and is considering options for appeal. A spokeswoman told Drapers: “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.”