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Asda edges closer to prospect of mass equal pay claim

The food retailer previously tried to seek an indefinite stay for the claim, resulting the claimants taking the case to the high court

Asda’s most recent attempt to block a large equal pay case being brought against it has failed. As a result, the supermarket chain may face a group of claimants numbering in excess of 10,000.

The men and women represented in the claimant group want a comparison between their positions and salaries for work in the retail outlets of Asda and those of Asda employees working in the supermarket giant’s distribution depots.

It is claimed that work in Asda retail has historically been thought of as suitable for women and has been perceived to be worth a lower wage than work in the distribution centres, which had generally been perceived as work for men.

This is not the first attempt by Asda, which was formed in 1965 with its headquarters in Leeds, West Yorkshire, to stop the tribunal claim. The food retailer previously tried to seek an indefinite stay for the claim, which would have meant the claimants having to take the case to the high court.

Asda also previously stated that comparisons between work in the retail sector and the distribution area was not viable because the salaries for each group were established using different sets of criteria; however, the employment tribunal did not accept this argument and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has given the green light for the mass pay claim to go ahead.

Legal representation for the claimants said Asda continued to argue every point possible in the case while not engaging with the critical issue, which was equal pay for those working in different parts of the supermarket’s business.

Judges at different stages have supported the right of the claim to go ahead. Saying that this most recent decision was another positive result for the claimants, the legal team confirmed that this was an opportunity for Asda to cease fighting the claim and to consider why men and women were being paid differently for work of the same value.

Tim Roache, the general secretary of the general workers’ union GMB, said he hoped the executives at Asda could negotiate a sensible outcome whereby workers in the stores were valued and paid on the same level as those in the distribution depots. He suggested that the money Asda was spending on trying to block the pay claim could be better spent on being a leader in treating employees equally in the workplace.

Asda released a statement following the ruling expressing its disappointment with the EAT decision. The supermarket group said the ruling applied to a technical issue of whether different jobs could be compared and indicated that it may try to appeal the decision; in fact, some legal commentators believe permission has already been given to contest the ruling in the court of appeal.

Another legal commentator said the EAT decision was a significant triumph for the employees; however, Asda’s appeal could take many months to resolve. It is thought that even if the decision is upheld, the pay claim would have to overcome a variety of legal obstacles and the case may take up to 18 months to be settled.

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