Tesco is facing a demand for up to £4bn in back pay from thousands of mainly female shopworkers in what could become the UK’s largest ever equal pay claim.
A law firm has launched legal action on behalf of nearly 100 shop assistants who say they earn as much as £3 an hour less than male warehouse workers in similar roles. Up to 200,000 shopfloor staff could be affected by the claim, which could cost Tesco up to £20,000 per worker in back pay over at least six years.
Tesco warehouse staff earn from about £8.50 an hour up to more than £11 an hour while store staff earn about £8 an hour in basic pay, according to the claim. The disparity could mean a full-time distribution worker earning over £5,000 a year more than store-based staff.
Unequal pay has also become a big battleground in the public sector, with female cleaners and dinner ladies taking legal action over claims that they were paid less than binmen or male street cleaners. Birmingham city council agreed to pay more than £1bn to settle the claims of tens of thousands of women which stretch back over many years.
Paula Lee, a Leigh Day lawyer who is representing the Tesco women, said: “We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years.
“There might be lifting and carrying in the distribution centre but there is also lifting and carrying in shops as well as dealing with customers asking questions and handling money.”
She said that men working in roles that have historically been predominantly carried out by women – jobs grouped under the five Cs of caring, cleaning, clerical, cashiering and catering – also tended to be underpaid.