ASDA is currently part of the largest ever public sector equal pay claim in the UK, that began Wednesday 11th October. This claim could see around 15,000 predominantly female former and current ASDA workers recovering over £100 million in pay.
The hearing will take place over two days in Manchester, following a judgement in October last year which found that many lower paid shop workers – that were typically women – could compare themselves to higher paid workers in ASDA’s distribution centres (men), because their jobs are of roughly equivalent value to the company. ASDA appealed against this decision unsuccessfully, yet they are appealing again, leading to a new discussion on their practices regarding workers pay.
Lawyers that were speaking on behalf of the 15,000 claimants described this week’s hearing as concerned around writing and agreeing on descriptions for jobs that are mostly done by women, and jobs that are mostly done by men. If these job descriptions are then deemed by a selection of independent experts to be of similar or same value to the company, then both should be compensated equally. This could cost the company around £100 million in repayments to the workers.
ASDA had previously tried to stop the claims reaching the employment tribunal by initially stating that they believed that the case should go to High Court, as they knew how much it would cost those applying for the claim to take this measure. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the employment tribunal was an appropriate setting for looking into these claims, setting the movement of the claim process into motion. A lawyer representing the ASDA workers said that although they were uncertain how long the case would last for, there was a chance that it could have the potential to be a game-changer for gender pay disputes in the future.
Equal pay has been a much-discussed issue in recent years, following intense media scrutiny over the claims that unequal pay is still a phenomenon that occurs frequently, even prompting many within Hollywood’s circles to make statements regarding the difference in pay between male and female actors performing similar roles within films. Even within the UK, official statistics show that the gender pay gap for full-time employees in 2016 was 9.4%, yet because of women’s tendency to take on part-time work more frequently than men so that they can stay involved in caring roles outside the home, the chance to take a broad look at the problem wasn’t considered completely.
The gender pay gap for full-time and part-time employees fell from 19.3% to 18.1% between 2015-2016, but campaigners say that the pace of improvement is too slow considering the relevance of the situation. In April, a legislation was introduced that gave all companies in the UK that employ at least 250 staff a year to publish comparative pay rates for male and female employees, with the most noticeable reaction to this being the fall-out from the revelation that the BBC’s top-paid staff are being paid considerably different wages seemingly in regard to gender, with the top-paid woman earning about half of that of the top-paid man.