Can you imagine waking up to a bill of £4 billion?

This is what supermarket chain, Tesco, could be facing as they are embroiled in what is being labelled as the largest equal pay dispute in history.

What is at the heart of the dispute?

The law firm who has taken legal action, Leigh Day, is arguing that most of the employees who work in the distribution centres are male and most of those working in stores work are female. The employees in the distribution centre earn over £11 an hour, while the common wages for store staff is around £8 per hour. This means that the difference in pay for working the same hours is over £5000 more per year.

Leigh Day estimate that this underpayment could apply to over 200,000 Tesco employees, which means the final bill Tesco could have to pay is an eye-watering £4 billion!

It’s not just Tesco under fire

Asda is facing a similar challenge from its workers.

Checkout workers and shelf stackers in stores tend to be women and those working at distribution centres tend to be men. The difference in pay between the two types of workers is between £1 and £3 an hour.

The shop floor workers believe that their work is perceived as ‘women’s work’. Despite doing work of equal value, they argue they are being paid less than men working in the distribution centres.

Asda refuted the claims, arguing that the demands of the roles are different. They contended that ‘Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres for legitimate reasons, including the different market rates for different jobs in different sectors.’ They argued that hourly paid colleagues doing the same job in the same location are paid the same; men and women doing the same job in stores are paid the same, and females and males fulfilling the same work duties in distribution centres are paid equally.

An Employment Tribunal concluded that the women in the stores can compare themselves to men at distribution centres and allowed their equal pay claim to proceed. Asda appealed but they were unsuccessful.

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