Verdict over equal pay – Tesco workers win in European Court

After a ruling in a European Court on 3rd June Tesco shop workers in the UK can now use European law to decide equal pay issues. They can now compare themselves to other employees who work in the distribution centres.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the equal pay rights which are laid out in European law are above those on domestic laws. The court ruled that as per Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union the interpretation is that of having a ‘direct effect in equal value proceedings.’

Equal pay laws have remained in place in UK law through Brexit which means that the European Court’s judgement still stands. It remains to be seen, however, if Tesco complies with the ruling and to what extent.

In March this year the Supreme Court ruled that workers from Asda would be able to compare themselves to those staff members working in distribution centres. This ruling regarding Tesco is the latest victory in the fight for equal pay against the largest supermarket in the UK.

While the Asda ruling was focused on domestic law, the ruling for Tesco from the European Court came in answer to several questions asked in 2019 by Watford Employment Tribunal.

Representing many workers from Tesco, the law firm Leigh Day asked the court to rule on one specific aspect of European law, namely whether the so-called ‘single source test’ applied to businesses in the UK.

EU law states that ‘a worker can be compared with somebody in a different place of work if a single source has the power to correct the difference in pay.’

The EU court rules that Tesco stores constitutes, as employers, a single source which deals with the pay conditions and workers’ performance in its stores and distribution centres.

Partner at Leigh Day, Kiran Daurka stated that the judgement reinforced the ruling of the Supreme Court. The roles of shop floor workers can and should be compared to colleagues who work in distribution centres, for the purpose of equal pay.

Ms Daurka went on to say that when the UK was part of the EU there were several British laws that were passed, and the British government chose to retain those laws after Brexit. These include ones that relate to equal pay, and they still form part of British law.

It is estimated that around 584,000 current workers at UK supermarkets, along with an unknown number of former supermarket workers may be entitled to back pay under the ruling. This number is from the UK’s four main chains and could result in a pay-out of almost £10bn.

As Tesco employs about 250,00 workers in the UK stores, the claim against them is the largest of all the cases. Taking up the case is the Tesco Action Group who have joined forces with several other law firms and campaign organisations.

Tesco Action Group, championed by Pay Justice, is dedicated to fighting for equality in the workplace.

Campaigning law firm Harcus Sinclair UK instigated their Equal Pay Action Initiative scheme.

Senior associate at Harcus Sinclair, Emily Fernando said that this ruling was another important and promising decision for all the claimants against Tesco.

Now there is no legal stone left to overturn on the issue of comparability. The staff of Tesco are free to compare themselves to others working in distribution centres. Ms Fernando said that they looked forward to the next stages and the final hearing as soon as possible.

Tesco stood by their argument that the jobs in their stores and those in the distribution centres were ‘not directly comparable.’

A spokesperson for Tesco said that because the roles demanded different skills there was a variation in pay. This has nothing to do with gender, although most of the staff in the distribution centres are male. Tesco still strongly defends this statement.

Tesco states that they reward their colleagues fairly for the jobs they do. Furthermore, they work hard to ensure that both pay and benefits for all their staff are not only fair, but competitive and sustainable.

Staff of Tesco’s who were questioned disagreed with the company ‘official line.’ One female worker said that she felt demoralised because she was paid less than her male colleagues.

Those staff who were asked also agreed that they had always been proud to work at Tesco’s but simply knowing that male workers in distribution centres being paid more is demoralising for them.


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