Made in Dagenham 21st century style: Sainsbury’s and Asda face wrath of women for unequal pay

The case centres around deciding whether shop floor jobs are of equal value to higher-paid jobs in warehouses. If the Sainsbury’s workers win, they could be entitled to six years worth of back pay for the difference in earnings.

The case resonates with one Asda faced at the end of 2014 that still hasn’t been settled. The supermarket is facing a mass legal action from more than 1,000 shop floor employees who claim they are underpaid compared with “mostly male staff” working in warehouses. The case could become the largest ever employment claim in the private sector, according to representative lawyers from Leigh Day.

The firm suggested it had received 19,000 enquiries from current or former Asda staff in relation to the group legal action.

Michael Newman, a discrimination and employment law expert at Leigh Day, said: “In the supermarkets the checkout staff and shelf-stackers are mostly women. The people in the warehouses are pretty much all men. And, as a whole, the group that is mostly men gets paid more.

“Our investigations suggest that the jobs are pretty much the same, in that warehouse staff are responsible for taking items off shelves, putting them on pallets and loading them into lorries,” he said. “In the supermarket, they do the reverse: taking the pallets off the lorries, unstacking them and putting the items on the shelves. Where the jobs are not similar, we still think they are of equal value.”

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Leigh Day, which also works on the Sainsbury’s case, said it believed the action could be joined by thousands more female shop floor members of staff. Alongside the three women working in Shrewsbury and one in Fareham, the law firm had reportedly been contacted by 20,000 people after reading about the Asda case.

Newman said Sainsbury’s had already faced a similar case, brought by a woman working in Lewisham in 1989. The court had ruled that the roles of warehouse men and shop floor workers should be equal.

He said that even if “one or two minor terms of employment are not common to the two relevant classes of employees” that should not “disable a woman from saying that a given man in a different establishment was ‘in the same employment with her”.

According to Newman it is an important case, given the amount of time equal pay legislation has been in force and the gender pay gap still exists

“We know supermarkets all compete on the price of a loaf of bread,” he said. “It’s shocking that they are competing in terms of bad practice in terms of paying female staff.”

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