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Landmark win for women in Asda pay fight

GMB union urges talks after court backs shopworkers' equality claim

TENS of thousands of Asda supermarket workers received a landmark court victory today in their fight for equal pay.

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Asda’s lower-paid retail staff, about two thirds of whom are women, can compare themselves with the chain’s male-dominated distribution workforce for the purposes of equal pay.

The judge said that the ruling does not mean that the shopworkers have won the right to equal pay, but that their success in the case means that they are now free to take further action.

The GMB union hailed it as a “massive victory” and called for talks with bosses to reach a potential £500 million settlement.

Lawyers representing Asda retail workers, of which there are more than 44,000, said that distribution staff were paid between £1.50 and £3 an hour more than their clients.

Lauren Lougheed, a Leigh Day lawyer for Asda shop staff, said that the claimaints have cleared “a big hurdle” in their fight for equal pay.

She pointed out that three courts – an employment tribunal, an employment appeal tribunal, and the Court of Appeal – had previously come to the same conclusion as the Supreme Court.

“It’s our hope that Asda will now stop dragging its heels and pay their staff what they are worth,” she said.

GMB legal director Susan Harris said that the supermarket now needs to make an agreement on backdated pay owed to the workers.

“We are proud to have supported our members in this litigation and helped them in their fight for pay justice,” she said.

“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.”

Wendy Arundale, who worked for Asda for 32 years and is one of the many GMB members involved in the case, said she was delighted with the ruling.

“I loved my job, but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres were being paid more left a bitter taste in my mouth,” she said.

Shadow equalities minister Marsha de Cordova welcomed the “historic victory for women and trade unions in the fight for equal pay.”

“It’s been over 50 years since the Labour Party enshrined the Equal Pay Act in law but too many women still face pay discrimination,” she said.

“Women should not have to battle through the courts for years because of Tory negligence.”

An Asda spokesman said it could take several years for the claimants’ case to reach a conclusion.

“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,” he said.

“Retail and distribution are very different sectors with their own distinct skillsets and pay rates.”

Lawyers said that the ruling could leave other supermarkets and retailers open to similar legal action.

Lime Solicitors head of employment Neha Thethi said: “The importance of today’s Supreme Court judgement cannot be underestimated.

“It is the largest equal pay claim in the private sector and has the potential to open the floodgates to further claims, not just across other supermarkets but other prominent retailers.”

Stephensons Solicitors’ Philip Richardson said that the ruling is “a landmark moment” and “will have profound consequences for many other companies with similar employment practices and pay structures.”

Workers welcomed the decision, but said that the supermarket should have resolved the issue years ago.

Claimant Kate Gorton, who worked in Asda stores in Stoke-on-Trent and Coventry between 2011 and 2019, said that the pay gap between shopfloor and distribution centre workers was significant.

“This case goes back to 2016, so Asda should have resolved it a long time ago. The difference in pay still goes on today,” she said.

Fawcett Society chief executive Felicia Willow said the ruling “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 and ensure male and female workers are paid equally for all work of equal value,” she said.

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