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Women workers head for the courts to improve pay

SUPERMARKET GIANT Tesco is being taken to an employment tribunal by 100 of its women staff who are claiming that they are not being paid fairly. If this test case is successful, thousands of women across the company could benefit.

Solicitors Leigh Day are acting on their behalf of the 100 women, who were selected from 1,000 Tesco staff who approached them. The women are hourly paid staff, such as cashiers – and the solicitors say they are paid less than men who work in company warehouses.

The argument is that the work is of equal value and the women should be paid the same rate as the men. Leigh Day points out that most of its female staff earn £8 per hour, whereas their work is of equal value as men’s – who earn up to £11 an hour.

Tesco disputes the claim and says that it pays all staff equally and fairly, and it hasn’t seen the detailed claim yet so it cannot comment on the specific issue. Leigh Day has said that they are not alleging that Tesco has been deliberately been paying women less than men – but that is the outcome of their pay policy, built up over the last several years, and it is unfair.

If the case is successful, individual women workers could be entitled to back pay of up to £20,000 each – costing Tesco up to £4 billion. Leigh Day also points out that Tesco has been making huge profits, and if some of this money is due to its staff, then Tesco should pay up.

The same solicitors are also representing workers at Asda and Sainsburys, who are fighting similar cases over equal pay. Unfortunately, the legal process can be very slow. The Tribunal ruled in 2016 that 9,500 women at Asda who do jobs such as stacking shelves or working on the till did work of equal value to warehouse jobs, largely done by men. Asda is appealing against that ruling – and the case is therefore still going on.

Business Secretary Greg Clark has today announced that the Government will monitor and enforce workers’ rights more strictly in future. It will concentrate on ensuring staff receive the holiday and sick pay they are entitled to. It will increase the maximum fines employers have to pay when they are found to be breaking employment law.

Clark stressed that enforcement will be carried out in the “gig economy” – jobs were employers often try to stretch the law and duck their responsibilities in creative ways. He said the Government would enforce statutory conditions just as they now enforce payment of the minimum wage – which is, sadly, hardly at all.  Oh dear.

Trade unions have welcomed Clark’s statement – but pointed out that government legislation (on matters such as qualifying periods and fees to take issues to Tribunals) have had a negative effect on workers’ attempts to enforce their rights. A Government which doesn’t notice that a company the size of Carillion is about to collapse is not one that has workers’ rights at the top of its agenda across the Board, they say – and company closures are the issue of the moment.

•Read more about it:
Carillion: more jobs to go
Labour backs decent jobs, not fat cats

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