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Fair Employment Law Policies: Asda Case Highlights Continuing Struggles For Equal Pay

Fair Employment Law Policies: Asda Case Highlights Continuing Struggles For Equal Pay

Asda is facing a mass legal action, instigated predominantly by female workers, who claim they are not paid the same as male workers in the supermarket chain’s distribution warehouses – despite their jobs being of “equivalent value”. The case, which could become the largest-ever employment claim in the private sector, will test how companies decide what they pay their staff in different parts of their business.

Over 1,000 employment tribunal cases have already been lodged, with more than 19,000 enquiries lodged already from current or former members of staff. Employees have suggested that the difference in pay could be as high as £4 an hour. An Asda spokesman said: “We do not discriminate and are very proud of our record in this area which, if it comes to it, we will robustly defend”. Should the workers’ case prove successful, the retailer could be forced to pay staff the difference in earnings, backdated up to six years.

Counting the cost of equal pay settlements

The six-year rule came about thanks to a case won by home-care workers for Birmingham city council in 2012, who fought to receive compensation for the years they were underpaid; despite having to be available for work every day, the local authority put Joan Clulow and Pamela Saunders in the same pay band as road cleaners and refuse collectors – mainly male – who received bonuses, shift payments and attendance allowances on top of their basic wage.

In 2012, in a case brought with 170 other women, they won a Supreme Court ruling which extended the time limit for claiming back pay from six months to six years. Dealing with equal pay settlements is thought to be costing Birmingham council £1.1bn. Similar settlements at South Lanarkshire council in Scotland with 3,000 employees have already cost it £75m, with negotiations continuing with another 1,200 workers.

“Voluntary approach has failed”

The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that the UK has dropped out of the top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world for the first time, with average pay for women falling by £2,600 a year, to £15,400. Earnings for men remain unchanged, at £24,800.

In response to the report, Eva Neitzert, deputy chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said “voluntary approach has failed; we warned it would”, adding “Any government committed to gender equality must lift the national minimum wage and ensure that any future welfare changes do not disproportionately impact women”.

Changes could be on the horizon; Katja Hall, deputy director-general at the Confederation of British Industry, has called on the next government to set a national target to reduce this gap. On the WEF figures, women and equalities minister Nicky Morgan commented “We are committed to delivering a long-term economic plan that works for everyone”. Gloria De Piero, the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, has pledged to make businesses with over 250 employees disclose the average pay of men and women at each pay grade.

The potential costs of complying with any future changes in legislation, epitomised by the cases described above, only serve to show just what could be at stake for organisations which fail to anticipate possible future changes in employment legislation and ensure they have equal and fair pay policies in place.

At IBB Solicitors, we take a proactive approach to workplace issues, helping employers find the best possible outcome for their employment issues. We can also help advise on policy reviews. Our specialist employment lawyers are based in West London and place heavy emphasis on continuing personal training and development, to ensure that they always present you with the most up-to-date legal and practical advice available. Our expertise and experience has made us one of the most trusted and highly regarded employment law teams in the region. Our service ensures that you are fully aware of changes to employment law.

For advice on employment contracts and policies contact our employment team on 01895 207892. Alternatively email your details to employment@ibblaw.co.uk