More than 40,000 store workers, two thirds of them women, argued it was unfair that staff in its distribution depots, mostly men, get paid more. Asda insisted the jobs were not comparable. However, the Supreme Court yesterday ruled against the supermarket in what a union chief called a “massive victory”. Lawyers representing store workers say distribution-depot staff get between £1.50 and £3 an hour more.
The next stage is to determine whether the roles are of an equal value – with the whole process potentially dragging on for years.
The GMB union called on the company to discuss the next stage of the compensation claim.
Susan Harris, GMB legal director, said: “This is amazing news and a massive victory for Asda’s predominantly women shop-floor workforce. We are proud to have supported our members in this litigation and helped them in their fight for pay justice.
“Asda has wasted money on lawyers’ bills chasing a lost cause, losing appeal after appeal, while tens of thousands of retail workers remain out of pocket.
“We now call on Asda to sit down with us to reach agreement on the back pay owed to our members – which could run to hundreds of millions of pounds.” Lawyers say the ruling will have implications for other retailers.
Lauren Lougheed, of law firm Leigh Day, said: “We are delighted that our clients have cleared such a big hurdle in their fight for equal pay. It’s our hope that Asda will now stop dragging its heels and pay their staff what they are worth.”
Wendy Arundale, who worked for Asda for 32 years, said: “I am delighted that shop-floor workers are one step closer to achieving equal pay.
“I loved my job, but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres were being paid more left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Kate Gorton, one of the claimants, said the pay difference was “significant”.
Ms Gorton, who worked in Asda stores in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, and Coventry, said: “This case goes back to 2016, so Asda should have resolved it a long time ago.”
Felicia Willow, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “This doesn’t mean the fight for equal pay is won, but it does mean employers must take a long, hard look at their pay structures.”
The ruling is a setback for the store, which was recently bought by the billionaire Issa brothers.
A spokesman for Asda said: “We are defending these claims because the pay in our stores and distribution centres is the same for colleagues doing the same jobs regardless of their gender. Retail and distribution are very different sectors with their own distinct skill sets and pay rates.”