In the week commencing 13 January 2020, Manchester Employment Tribunal ruled that supermarket retailer Asda’s job descriptions for predominantly female shop floor employees ‘did not go far enough as to acquiring and using knowledge’ for the purposes of comparison in its ongoing equal pay dispute.
Under the Equality Act 2010, even if work is not alike and not rated as equivalent, it can be equal in terms of the demands made, looking at things like effort, skill and decision-making.
In the first of a number of similar hearings for claimants and their comparators, Judge Ryan, sitting with Ms JK Williamson and Mr AJ Gill, concluded that Asda’s submission regarding the women’s job descriptions did not accurately depict the demands placed upon shop floor workers.
The Stage 2 Equal Value hearing was held at Manchester Employment Tribunal sitting at Manchester Crown Court that concluded on 7 June.
The purpose was to conclude whether the job descriptions of six female retail workers and seven male comparators in distribution centres was comparable. The six job descriptions for shop floor workers that were offered up as evidence were representative of thousands of claimants in the exact same role, amounting to almost 40,000 employees.
The tribunal found that Asda’s suggestion that ‘no-one minds’ if shop floor employees’ work was not done on time and there was no pressure to get the store stocked and ready to meet peak customer demand, was ‘not plausible nor consistent with the evidence’.
To make this assessment, the tribunal considered 20,000 pages of documents, and independent experts visited the Asda Wigan store and Skelmersdale distribution centre to observe working conditions.
These experts will now examine how the jobs compare, considering factors such as knowledge, experience, responsibility for planning, maintaining stocks, looking after finance, health and safety, data handling, the need for concentration, the stress of the job, problem-solving, communication, physical skills, and working conditions.
Once they have concluded their examinations, a final report will be compiled that will determine whether the jobs are of equal value or not.
Lauren Lougheed, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the claimants, said: “This is yet another positive step forward in our case for over almost 40,000 Asda shop floor workers. Most significantly, Asda’s suggestion that our clients were not required to have any particular knowledge about products in order to do their jobs was completely dismissed by the Employment Tribunal.
“Although we still have many stages of the case to go, we continue to rack up the victories for our clients towards their ultimate goal of achieving equal pay.”
An Asda spokesperson said: “This equal value case is extremely complex and without precedent in the private sector, so it is vital the issues are given the legal scrutiny they deserve and this case will take many years to resolve. Both sides have appealed points during this complex process and none of the appeals have caused any delay to the case, which continues to progress through the tribunal but will still take many years to conclude.
“This latest judgement was to address factual disputes in the job roles at our stores and depots, and not to make any findings over whether the jobs are of equal value. The judgement was positive for Asda and whilst the findings in relation to the job descriptions are very detailed, the tribunal took a balanced approach.
“Our hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in our depots. Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in the distribution centre are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender.”
Anita Rai, partner and head of employment at law firm JMW Solicitors, added: “As gender equality issues continue to headline, supermarkets can no longer rest on their laurels. It’s only a matter of time before this hot topic permeates all public and private sector companies. My advice to all employers is to get on the front foot of this by reviewing their pay practices, but now from a slightly wider perspective.
“They should do this by thinking more about the similarities between the various jobs performed by their male and female staff across different functions and locations, and where those jobs are broadly comparable, seek to redress any pay disparities, unless these can be legitimately justified.”