Barking, Dagenham and Romford supermarket workers pursue equal pay claim
- Credit: DPA Germany
A group of almost 300 supermarket workers are fighting for up to £10,000 each in equal pay compensation.
The 296 staff work in 55 stores at Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op stores across Dagenham, Barking and Romford.
The bid for compensation is on behalf of hourly paid, store-based staff - mainly women - who claim their work is of equal value to that of mostly male workers in the supermarkets' distribution centres.
The difference in hourly pay between a shop floor and distribution centre worker at the big five supermarkets can range from £1.50 to £3, according to Leigh Day, which is acting on the workers' behalf.
Lawyers believe the average worker could be entitled to £10,000 in back pay up to six years.
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Leigh Day's Chris Benson said: "Despite equal pay laws being in place for almost 50 years, our clients believe they are still unlawfully underpaid. This case is not about whether the jobs are identical or even the same: it is saying they are of equal value."
In an October 2012 ruling, lawyers won the right for equal pay claims to be brought in the High Court up to six years after a worker leaves the employment where pay discrimination may have occurred.
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But the supermarkets have vowed to strongly defend the claims.
A Co-op spokesman said: "We have received a small number of equal pay claims. Unlike some of the bigger food retailers, we do not have large scale multiple claims.
"It wouldn't be appropriate to comment on individual claims, but we will be defending these claims and are confident that our reward practices are fair."
A Sainsbury's spokesman said the company pays its staff according to their role, not their gender with men and women in stores paid an equal hourly rate while men and women in depots are also paid equally.
"The roles in our stores and depots are fundamentally different and cannot be compared. We will robustly defend our position," he added.
A spokeswoman for Tesco said: "We work hard to ensure that we reward our colleagues fairly for the jobs they do. The pay in our stores and in our distribution centres is the same for colleagues doing the same jobs regardless of gender.
"There are fundamental differences between the jobs in our stores versus those in distribution centres. These differences, in skills and demands, as well as the different markets in which they operate, do lead to variations in rates of pay between stores and distribution centres - but these are not in any way related to gender, and we will strongly defend these claims."
An Asda spokesman said hourly rates of pay in stores are the same for female and male colleagues and this is equally true in its depots.
"Pay rates in stores differ from pay rates in distribution centres because the demands of the jobs in stores and the jobs in distribution centre are very different; they operate in different market sectors and we pay the market rate in those sectors regardless of gender," he added.
A Morrisons spokeswoman said: "We believe we pay our colleagues fairly and equally for the job that they do, irrespective of their gender, and we will be defending this claim."