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An employment tribunal has ruled in favour of lower paid women who work in Asda stores

Tesco is facing legal action from a group of workers fighting against its move to slash wages for working at weekends, bank holidays and nights.

Law firm Leigh Day is acting for 17 claimants who, it said, had lost additional weekend and bank holiday pay rates they had previously been entitled to.

The employees, who all joined Tesco before 5 July 1999, are going through the statutory ACAS pre-claim conciliation process ahead of taking the claims to the Employment Tribunal if a resolution is not achieved.

Lawyers from Leigh Day have written to Tesco asking it to fully disclose how many employees are affected by the decision, claiming as many as 37,500 of Tesco’s hourly paid staff - mostly over 40 years of age - may have been hit.

Pay changes announced by Tesco in February included an hourly wage rise, but also cuts to the rates paid to some Sunday and bank holiday staff.

Under the changes, staff who previously received double time for Sunday and bank holiday shifts switched to time and a half from July.

Paula Lee, of the employment and discrimination department at Leigh Daym, said: “Our clients are extremely unhappy that they have had their wages reduced in this way. These long-serving employees are especially angry that they only found out about the decision when news was leaked to the national press in January 2016.”

Lee continued: “Tesco employs 380,000 people in the UK and the decision to impose pay cuts on long-serving employees is a bitter pill for our clients to swallow and we believe it is discriminatory. There seems to be a growing trend among retailers to cut staff wages and use those savings across other areas of the business. It is the longer serving staff in these retail organisations who usually suffer. Understandably, our clients feel their loyalty is being taken advantage of - that the employer knows they are unlikely to leave their jobs - and, in turn, that makes them feel vulnerable to further ‘no choice’ pay cuts.”

A Tesco spokeswoman said: “Earlier this year we announced a pay increase of up to 3.1% for colleagues working in our stores across the UK, in addition to a 5% turnaround bonus. As part of the pay negotiations, we also agreed to simplify premium payments to ensure a fair and consistent approach for all colleagues. The minority of colleagues who were negatively impacted by this change were supported with an agreed lump sum transition payment.”

Leigh Day is also at the heart of another supermarket court fight over pay and conditions.

An employment tribunal in Manchester last Friday ruled that lower paid women who work in Asda stores can compare themselves to higher paid men who work in Asda’s distribution centres.

The judgment followed a hearing at Manchester Employment Tribunal, which took place in June this year.The decision by Employment Judge Ryan will allow over 7,000 store workers to proceed with their claims for equal pay against Asda in the UK’s largest ever private sector equal pay claim.

Asda had initially tried to stop the claims from proceeding in the employment tribunal, arguing that they should be heard in the High Court. However the Court of Appeal ruled that the employment tribunal is the appropriate place for the women’s claims to proceed.

Lauren Lougheed, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day, who is representing the Asda claimants, said: “This is a dramatic victory for the workers we represent. Asda tried to argue that because the shops and distribution centres were in different locations, with different pay arrangements, that Asda could pay the men what they like. However, the employment tribunal found that Asda, the employer of both men and women, could have made sure that there was equal pay between men and women if they wanted to, but chose not to. This judgment will have far-reaching implications on other supermarket equal pay claims, including those we are bringing on behalf of around 400 Sainsbury’s workers who are in a similar situation.”

A spokeswoman for Asda said: “This decision by the employment tribunal does not determine the eventual outcome of the case. It relates to a technical preliminary issue of whether jobs in different parts of the business can be compared.

“The tribunal has yet to consider whether the jobs are of equal value in terms of their demands, and if some jobs are, only then will the tribunal move on to consider the reasons for the differentials, including the existence of different market rates in different industry sectors. We continue to strongly dispute the claims being made against us. We believe that the demands of the jobs are very different and are considering our options for appeal. 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.”