When you are shopping in Tesco it's unlikely you ever stop in the frozen aisle to think long and hard about how the company pays its female staff, but that's about to change.
New reports about Tesco, the UK's largest private sector employer, and how it pays hundreds of thousands of its (mostly male) warehouse workers compared to its (mostly female) shop-floor workers for comparable work are making headlines today. If you don't know the story, here's the lowdown.
Gender pay gap
Tesco shop assistants earn as much as £3 an hour less than male warehouse employees for comparable work – £8 for store staff versus between £8.50 and £11 for warehouse staff – according to the law firm Leigh Day, which is taking legal action on behalf of 100 shop assistants.
Women are fighting back
The firm is taking the initial legal steps against the supermarket this week on the shop assistants' behalf, although more than 1,000 Tesco staff have contacted the firm in total, the BBC reported.
The work of the (mostly female) store staff – which involves interacting with customers, dealing with money, heavy lifting and more – is of "at least equal value" to the work of the (mostly male) depot staff, the law firm says. "We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years," said Paula Lee, a solicitor for the firm.
Lee pointed out that equal pay for similar jobs was enshrined in UK law in 1984. "That's 34 years to put your house in order; that's 34 years of having the advantage of paying unequally, 34 years of you making pay decisions and making financial decisions and 34 years hiding what is in open sight."
Fifty-seven-year-old Pam Jenkins, a Tesco employee for 26 years who works mostly on the shop floor, believes that while the roles were obviously slightly different, they are equally valuable. "We deal with customers, they [the men] don't have to. We load, we take the stock and we load the stock, they take it off the lorry and we load it onto the shelves."
She added that the women were not just making the claim out of self-interest, but for the many others out there in a similar situation. "We are just trying to put things right and it's a shame we are still having to fight in this day and age."
What will happen if they win?
The legal challenge is being described as the largest ever equal pay claim in Britain and Tesco could face a £4 billion bill if the women are successful (just to put that in context, Tesco made £1.28 billion in profits last year). Up to 200,000 shop-floor employees, most of them women, could be entitled to up to £20k each in back pay. However, the legal process would involve going through the employment tribunal and so could take many years.
How has Tesco responded?
A spokeswoman for the supermarket said it had not yet received the claim so was "unable to comment" but added that the company was "a place for people to get on in their career, regardless of their gender, background or education," and that it "[works] hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid fairly and equally for the jobs they do." Watch this space.
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