Supermarket Asda is set to find out the latest ruling in a legal battle by its staff over equal pay.
The retail giant is challenging an Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision that jobs in Asda stores are comparable to those in the firm’s distribution centres.
At the Court of Appeal in London on Thursday, senior judges will rule on the latest round of the legal action launched by thousands of retail workers – mostly women – who argue they should be paid the same as those working in the supermarket’s depots.
However, even if Asda loses at this stage of the litigation, workers will still have to demonstrate that the roles are of equal value and, if they are, that there is not a reason other than sex discrimination which means the roles should not be paid equally.
At a hearing in October, Asda’s barrister Christopher Jeans QC said the EAT’s decision was “nonsensical”, adding: “It is not enough that the claimant and comparator share the same employer.”
Mr Jeans argued that the EAT had “erred in law” in finding that retail and distribution workers are comparable, and said the claimants need to show “either that they are at the same establishment… [or] that common terms and conditions apply”.
He said the EAT incorrectly reached the “extraordinary conclusion that the terms were common as between” the retail workers and depot staff.
Andrew Short QC, for the employees, said that staff believe their work is “of equal value to that of the distribution workers and that there is no good…reason for the difference in pay”.
He added: “Instead, they say that the difference results, in part at least, from stereotypical assumptions about the nature of ‘women’s work’ and the role of men, but not women, as breadwinners.”
He said that, in 2014, the “highest base rate for retail staff” in London was £7.37 per hour, compared to £9.13 per hour for the “lowest paid warehouse operatives” at Asda’s distribution centre in Grangemouth, central Scotland.
Law firm Leigh Day, which says it represents more than 27,000 Asda shop floor workers, as well as staff at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons, estimates the total value of the claims against the big four supermarkets, if they lose their cases and are ordered to pay all eligible staff, could be more than £8 billion.