Unions have celebrated a “huge win” against Asda today after the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that store staff can compare their roles with those in distribution centres.
Lawyers taking action against Asda said the judgment was a major step forward in the fair pay battle on behalf of tens of thousands of store workers who had already won an Employment Tribunal (ET) and Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) against Asda’s attempts to block their legal action.
However, Asda said it would continue to fight against the action.
The supermarket appealed against the two previous rulings it lost, both of which found that lower-paid shop workers, who are mostly women, can compare themselves with higher-paid workers in Asda’s distribution centres, who are mostly men.
Today’s judgment follows a three-day hearing at the Court of Appeal, which took place in October.
Workers, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argue that they should be paid equally to their colleagues in distribution centres for their work of equal value.
Leigh Day represents more than 30,000 shop floor staff from the big four supermarkets - Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons - in similar equal pay cases, with the case against Asda the most advanced.
It claims if all big four supermarkets lose their cases, and are ordered to pay all eligible staff, the cost would be more than £8bn.
“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,” said Linda Wong, a lawyer from the employment team at Leigh Day.
“We call on Walmart to lead the change for those hard-working store staff who are their workers and the public face of Asda.”
GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “We welcome this decision, we’ll always pursue justice and equality for our members and this decision is undoubtedly the right one. We know we’re not all the way there, there are more hurdles to jump in this process and as always we remain ready to negotiate should Asda want to get round the table.”
An Asda spokesman 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.”