More than 600 Sunderland supermarket workers launch legal fight for equal pay against four big names
A group of 635 Sunderland supermarket workers have joined a legal fight for equal pay which could lead to an average of £10,000 back pay.
Staff from 16 Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons in Sunderland are among 50,000 people involved in law firm Leigh Day’s Equal Pay Now campaign – which believes hundreds more Wearsiders could be eligible to join.
It is on behalf of hourly paid store-based staff – they say mainly women – who claim their work is of equal value to that of workers – claimed to be mainly men – who work in the distribution centres.
Three of the four have hit back at claims the difference is due to gender.
The law firm says the rate difference ranges from £1.50 to £4, so the average worker could be entitled to £10,000 for up to six years back pay and some up to £20,000.
Last month, thousands of Tesco shopfloor workers won a legal argument as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled the 'single source' test applies to businesses in the UK.
That follows a judgement from Supreme Court saying Asda shopfloor workers can compare their roles to distribution centres on equal pay.
Emma Satyamurti, a partner in the law firm’s employment team, said: “The pandemic has been an unsettling and stressful time for us all, but while we have navigated this unprecedented time, one of the things that has remained constant is the hard work of supermarket shopfloor workers in Sunderland who put themselves at an increased risk to keep our fridges and cupboards stocked.
"It’s our hope that supermarket bosses will stop ignoring the voices of the tens of thousands of workers who say enough is enough.”
One Asda staff member said warehouse workers do not face the same stresses of public-facing roles, while her hours have increased during the pandemic, adding the claim would "finally be recognition” for how they go above and beyond.
She said: “I would feel that the work I do and the responsibilities that rest on my shoulders are actually appreciated.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said it was proud of its long-standing commitment to gender equality, paying colleagues according to role, not gender.
They added men and women in stores are paid an equal hourly rate, as are depot workers.
"To suggest otherwise is wrong,” they added.
“We will continue to robustly defend our position in this litigation because we stand by our position that roles in stores and depots are fundamentally different.”
An Asda spokesperson said retail and distribution are different sectors with their own skills and pay rates and said the claim is a complex case likely to take several years conclude.
"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.”
A Tesco spokesperson said it too “strongly defend these claims” and the roles differ, accounting for pay variation, and added: “This has absolutely nothing to do with gender.
"We reward our colleagues fairly for the jobs they do and work hard to ensure that the pay and benefits we offer are fair, competitive and sustainable.”
They also added the claims are “extremely complex” and will take years to reach a conclusion.
Morrisons declined to comment.