Employment law expert, solicitor and former CAB Advisor, Ian Winrow, discusses how ASDAs equal pay dispute could affect North Wales retail workers
It was widely reported earlier this year that large retail employer ASDA was likely to face significant back-pay and legal costs, after the Appeal Court ruled that 35,000 shop floor workers were undertaking ‘equivalent work’ to higher paid warehouse staff.
Shop floor workers are mostly female, whereas warehouse employees are mostly male. This ruling is hugely significant and employment lawyers were not surprised to learn earlier this month that ASDA are now taking the decision to the Supreme Court.
ASDA told the Retail Gazette:
“This equal value case is extremely complex and without precedent in the private sector, so it is vital the issues are given the legal scrutiny they deserve. Whatever the final outcome, the implications for UK businesses, not just in retail, will be far-reaching.” A date has not yet been announced for the hearing, but if ASDA do not get the decision overruled by the Supreme Court, there will be huge repercussions for the whole retail industry as well as for local workers at ASDA stores in Rhyl, Llandudno and Queensferry. Early estimates put the overall costs as high as £8Bn. It particularly has huge implications for Wales, as 1 in 7 of the total workforce in Wales are employed in the retail and wholesale sectors (ONS, 2016).
However it is not only retail workers that could get an overdue wake-up-call.
Many employees (and their employers) are surprised to learn that the law requires men and women to be paid equal pay when undertaking equivalent work within the workplace. This is not a new law and is not in any way related to the requirement for gender pay gap reports.
It’s something I regularly advised on during my years helping clients at the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Entitlement to equal pay was introduced in the Equality Act of 2010 and employees are entitled to raise a claim if they believe their role is equivalent to that of a male doing different but equivalent work for the company. It does not mean that ‘everyone needs the same pay’, and obviously allows for things like years of service and different skill sets, but for equivalent roles, the starting points should be the same.
Anyone who believes they do an equivalent role but are paid less than their colleagues based on gender is able to bring a claim against their employer, as the ASDA employees have done. Indeed, only yesterday, ex-BBC worker Caroline Barlow received £130,000 in an out of court settlement following her claim that 15 male employees doing equivalent work were paid more.
There are challenges in establishing ‘equivalent work’ but responsible employers are expected to tackle this by undertaking an equal pay audit, there is a recognised structure for doing this – simply not caring doesn’t tend to go down well in the Courts.
Like others in my field, I await the ASDA decision, not least because as the Head of Employment Law modules at Bangor University, I will have to teach my students!
However, this is one of the biggest equal pay cases in recent years and I personally await the outcome, because it will send a loud message that sex discrimination and pay discrimination are wholly unacceptable in a modern society.
If you are an employer or employee with questions about equal pay law, you can contact Ian Winrow on 01286 269 226 or visit the company website: http://winr.mooretechnology.co.uk/