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Why the Asda equal pay verdict feels 'significant'
26 March 2021, 11:59
After a global crisis that highlighted the economic disparities between men and women’s work while people celebrate the crucial job done by supermarket workers, the Supreme Court’s pay ruling on Asda feels timely and significant.
That’s despite the fact it has actually been going on for years, stemming from a 2016 employment tribunal decision on pay going all the way back to 2002.
This morning, 44,000 Asda employees won the latest leg of their equal pay claim, after taking it all the way up to the Supreme Court.
The UK’s highest court backed an earlier judgment that store staff can compare themselves to distribution staff, for the purposes of equal pay.
The dispute boils down to the fact that customer-facing store workers (who are mostly women) are paid less than staff in Asda’s warehouses (who are mostly men).
Law firm Leigh Day says depot workers get between £1.50 and £3 an hour more than their colleagues in stores.
They argue that is deeply discriminatory and unfair, with far wider implications across the economy.
Today was a victory for the campaign, but it’s far from over - instead setting up a legal battle that could last years.
Staff can now seek a further employment tribunal case, to establish whether these specific jobs really are of "equal value."
Then, it’s thought, they could ask a tribunal to consider whether there are actually reasons other than gender for the disparity, and whether Asda can defend them.
Whatever the eventual verdict, with a case of this scale it’s likely to have huge legal ramifications for these kind of equal pay, equal value claims in the future.
An Asda spokesman said of Friday's judgment: "This ruling relates to one stage of a complex case that is likely to take several years to reach a conclusion.
"We are defending these claims because the pay in our stores and distribution centres is the same for colleagues doing the same jobs regardless of their gender.
"Retail and distribution are very different sectors with their own distinct skill sets and pay rates.
"Asda has always paid colleagues the market rate in these sectors and we remain confident in our case."