The European Union Court of Justice (CJEU) has backed thousands of shop workers, mostly women, who have accused Tesco of paying them up to £3 less per hour than warehouse workers, who are mostly men.
Lawyers told PA news agency that UK employers have previously used “unclear law” excuses to avoid equal pay, but that the EU ruling means they “can no longer hide”.
The bloc’s top court has ruled that EU rules guaranteeing equal pay for men and women can be invoked in the dispute over salaries. It also indicated shop floor staff should receive similar salaries to distribution workers.
But it said the legal tests required as part of the case could take years to conclude.
In the decision notice, the court argues that it has the ability to answer requests related to the case despite UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, as this falls under the Withdrawal Agreement.
It goes further to say that under EU law, there is an obligation to respect both “equal work” and “work of equal value”. EU law “creates rights for individuals which national courts must safeguard”, particularly when it comes to labour discrimination, the court added.
#ECJ: The principle, laid down by #EUlaw, of #EqualPay for male and female workers can be relied upon directly, in respect both of ‘equal work’ and of ‘work of equal value’, in proceedings between individuals— EU Court of Justice (@EUCourtPress) June 3, 2021
‘No more hiding behind law’
The decision related to Tesco comes three months after more than 40,000 Asda workers won their equal pay case against their supermarket bosses.
Law firm Leigh Day represents more than 50,000 supermarket shop floor workers.
Kiran Daurka, a partner at the firm, said: “This judgment reinforces the Supreme Court’s ruling that the roles of shop floor workers can be compared to those of their colleagues in distribution centres for the purposes of equal pay.
“For a long time, employers have argued that UK law in this area is unclear, but this judgment is simple: if there is a single body responsible for ensuring equality, the roles are comparable.
“Clarification from the CJEU confirms that this single-source test can be relied upon by people in the UK bringing an equal-value claim.
“This means that employers can no longer hide behind the grey areas of UK law.”
‘Nothing to do with gender’
A Tesco spokesman said: “The jobs in our stores and distribution centres are different.
“These roles require different skills and demands which lead to variations in pay – but this has absolutely nothing to do with gender.
“We reward our colleagues fairly for the jobs they do and work hard to ensure that the pay and benefits we offer are fair, competitive and sustainable.
“These claims are extremely complex and will take many years to reach a conclusion.
“We continue to strongly defend these claims.”