Asda workers win landmark Supreme Court decision in latest round of £500m equal pay claim

Asda workers have won a Supreme Court ruling against the supermarket in a decision that lawyers say could open the door to billions of pounds of equal-pay claims against supermarkets.

More than 40,000 Asda store workers, about two-thirds of whom are women, brought discrimination claims after complaining that staff working in distribution depots are paid between £1.50 and £3 an hour more. The workers are seeking back-pay that totals about £500m.

Asda bosses argued that store jobs were not comparable to warehouse jobs.

Law firm Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the workers, said store workers historically received less because most are women while most distribution depot staff are men.

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Wendy Arundale, who worked for Asda for 32 years, said: “I’m delighted that shop floor workers are one step closer to achieving equal pay.

“I loved my job, but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres were being paid more left a bitter taste in my mouth.

“It’s not much to ask to be paid an equal wage for work of equal value, and I’m glad that the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion as all the other courts.”

Jane Amphlett, a partner at the law firm Howard Kennedy, said Asda could end up with a multimillion pound bill and that the decision will have a broader impact.

“The result means that large employers can’t avoid equal-pay obligations if male and female-dominated roles are based at different locations,” Ms Amphlett said.

Tesco, Co-op, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s are all facing similar claims, which could result in £8bn in back pay, according to Leigh Day.

The Asda workers’ legal fight is not over. The next stage would involve an employment tribunal deciding whether specific store and distribution jobs were of “equal value”.

After the technical process of determining value, a tribunal would then decide whether there were any other reasons besides gender that depot workers were paid more than shop workers.

The initial employment-tribunal decision, upheld by the Supreme Court on Friday, was made in 2016 and the remaining stages are expected to drag on for years.

Store workers bringing claims are members of the GMB union, which hailed the ruling as “amazing news”.

Susan Harris, the GMB’s legal director, said it was a “massive victory” for shop workers.

“Asda has wasted money on lawyers’ bills, chasing a lost cause, losing appeal after appeal, while tens of thousands of retail workers remain out of pocket,” Ms Harris said.

“We now call on Asda to sit down with us to reach agreement on the back pay owed to our members – which could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “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.”

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