Tesco has been targeted with an equal pay claim that could cost the UK’s biggest supermarket chain up to £4bn if successful.
Lawyers claim that the company’s hourly-paid female store staff earn up to £3 per hour less than their male colleagues, although the value of their work is comparable.
The legal action has been launched by the solicitors Leigh Day on behalf of nearly 100 Tesco shop assistants. The firm alleges that the company typically pays female employees an hourly rate of £8, whereas for men it can be as much as £11.
A landmark claim
As many as 20,000 Tesco shopfloor staff could be affected by the claim, which it is estimated could cost the company up to £4bn based on each worker receiving up to £20,000 in back pay over a period of at least six years. This would represent the UK’s biggest-ever back pay claim.
Leigh Day has begun submitting claims through the Acas conciliation service, as the first stage in what is expected to be a lengthy legal process through the employment tribunal system which could last several years.
The firm’s Paula Lee, who is representing the Tesco women, said: “We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years.
“There might be lifting and carrying in the distribution centre but there is also lifting and carrying in shops as well as dealing with customers asking questions and handling money.”
Similar earlier actions alleging pay inequality are being pursued against Tesco’s competitors, Asda and Sainsbury’s and are going through the employment tribunal process.
The Asda case involves nearly 20,000 shopworkers and the most recent ruling backed their right to compare their jobs to those of their mostly male colleagues working in distribution centres. Asda is due to appeal against the ruling in October.
Tesco shares were little changed in morning trade, standing at just below 200p at noon.
Responding to the claim, Tesco said that all their staff are able to progress equally and are paid fairly, regardless of their gender or background.
“We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received,” a company spokeswoman said. “Tesco has always been a place for people to get on in their career, regardless of their gender, background or education, and we work hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid fairly and equally for the jobs they do.”