Thousands of Asda workers win major step in equal pay claim battle

If the claims are successful, female workers could collectively recover more than £100m in back pay

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A landmark employment tribunal case has ruled that thousands of lower-paid female workers can proceed with their claims for equal pay against Asda in the UK’s biggest-ever private sector equal pay case.

The decision by the employment tribunal in Manchester will allow more than 7,000 female staff members who work in Asda stores to compare themselves to higher-paid men who work at warehouses.

If the claims are successful, female workers could collectively recover more than £100m in back pay going to 2002, as well as get pay rises in the future.

The women feel they are paid less than their men colleagues, despite their roles being of equal value.

Lauren Lougheed, a lawyer in the employment team who is representing the claimants, said the judgment was a “dramatic victory” for workers.

She said: “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 about 400 Sainsbury’s workers who are in a similar situation.”

Asda responded that it will continue to strongly dispute the claims, adding the outcome of the tribunal on Friday was a “technical issue” and did not “determine the eventual outcome of the case”.

Asda said: “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.

“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.”

Matt Gingell, an employment law partner at Gannons solicitors, told The Independent: "This decision is obviously good news for the Asda claimants, whose group action can proceed. The women bringing the claims would have been required to compare themselves to comparable men in the same employment. The tribunal has made a preliminary ruling allowing the claimants to compare themselves with men working in the distribution centres." 

"But there is a long way for the claimants to go  - and the tribunal will still need to determine whether the jobs are of equal value and if so what are the reasons for the differences in pay."