In November 2014 we reported that around 1,000 equal pay claims had been lodged in the Employment Tribunals against Asda with thousands more in the pipeline.
The claims arose from female shop-floor staff who argued that they were being underpaid compared to their male colleagues employed in distribution centres for carrying out effectively the same role but in reverse. The predominantly male workforce in the distribution centres are responsible for taking items off shelves, putting them on pallets and loading them onto lorries. The mainly female staff in the store remove the pallets from the lorries, unstack the pallets and put the items out on the shelves.
The difference in pay between the mainly female staff who work in store, and the mainly male staff who work in the distribution centres, was thought to be between £1 and £4 an hour. This lead the claimants to argue that the work carried out in store was being perceived as “women’s work” and was paid less while the work carried out in distribution depots was being deemed “men’s work” and was paid more.
Following a recent decision by the Employment Tribunal (ET) in Manchester, more than 7,000 store workers can now proceed with claims for equal pay against the supermarket. The ET ruled that women who work in store can compare themselves to higher paid men who work at distribution centres despite Asda’s argument that the stores and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements.
This decision could have serious ramifications for Asda which could see workers recovering more than £100 million, dating back to 2002. It should be borne in mind however, that at this stage, the ET has only ruled on whether roles in store are comparable to roles in the distribution centres. It will be for another ET to consider whether or not the jobs are “work of equal value” for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
It is not surprising that Asda is fighting these claims all the way. The financial impact on the Walmart-owned supermarket would be significant in the event of a victory for the employees and could have far-reaching implications for other similar businesses.
Employers with over 250 employees should also keep an eye on developments under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2016 which will require employers to publish specific information on the gender pay gap within their organisation. The requirement is due to come into force from April 2017, with the first reports to be uploaded to the Government and published on each respective business’ websites by the end of April 2018.
Employers should consider whether employees are doing ‘equal work’ within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 and ensure that employees are paid the same for doing so unless there is a material factor for the difference which is not directly or indirectly discriminatory.
If you would like any advice on equal pay or advice in relation to any other employment or HR issues please contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.