It was reported this week that a £4bn equal pay claim has been launched on behalf of Tesco employees starting with the ACAS Early Conciliation process. The claim is based on the idea that employees in the largely female staffed Tesco stores are being paid less than the predominantly male dominated distribution centres.
With the pay disparity alleged to be approximately £3 per hour, every little helps when it adds up to £100 a week or £5,000 per year for full-time staff. With reports of 200,000 Tesco employees having been underpaid “for many years” the value of these claims could be measured in billions.
The Equal Pay Act 1970 became law at a time when it was not unusual for employers to openly pay women less money for doing the same job as men or to reserve higher paid jobs for men and lower paid jobs for women. Although a little less blatant in the 21st century, we remain blighted by a significant gender pay gap. There is still much for the Employment Tribunal to do so that men and women receive equal pay for equal work or work of equal value.
In equal pay claims there are 3 categories of equal work known as ‘like work’, ‘worked rated as equivalent’ and ‘work of equal value’.
‘Like work’ involves two jobs where the work actually undertaken is the same or broadly similar. ‘Work rated as equivalent’ involves an employer carrying out and implementing an analytical job evaluation study/scheme and that process being discriminatory or otherwise unsuitable.
The Tesco claim is understood to be based on ‘work of equal value’. This is where the work is equal in terms of the demands made on the employee by reference to the effort, skill and decision-making involved. When comparing an employee loading lorries and facing the cold at a distribution centre with an employee loading shelves and facing customers in a store, the issues involved are complex. What is clear is that the supermarkets cannot afford to lose, which means that a process which starts with ACAS is likely to end with a decision in the highest courts in the land.