Tesco could face a bill of £4bn in an equal pay case
Lawyers say the case could eventually involve 200,000 women – making it the largest equal pay challenge in the UK.
Law firm Leigh Day is taking the first stage of the claim to conciliation service Acas on behalf of 100 women, who say they are paid less than men for work of equal value.
Tesco said it works to ensure that all staff are paid “fairly and equally”.
Lawyers argue that employees working in the male-dominated distribution centres are paid considerably more than the largely female-staffed Tesco stores, and may earn £11 an hour while the most common grade for store staff sees them receive around £8 per hour.
The disparity could see a full-time distribution worker on the same hours earning more than £100 a week, or £5,000 a year, more than store staff, Leigh Day said.
The law firm said it had been approached by more than 1,000 employees and ex-employees of the supermarket, and claims the case could lead to compensation payments of £4bn.
Paula Lee, from Leigh Day, who is representing the Tesco women, said: “We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid for many years.
“In terms of equal worth to the company, there really should be no argument that workers in stores, compared to those working in distribution centres, contribute at least equal value to the vast profits made by Tesco, which last year had group sales of £49.9bn.
“In the week where we have marked the 100-year anniversary since women began to get the vote, the time has come for companies and public organisations to have a long, hard look at themselves, to see the inequality which is still deeply entrenched in their organisations.”
The claims have been submitted to conciliation body Acas and the move follows similar cases against Asda and Sainsbury’s which are currently being dealt with by the employment tribunal process.
A Tesco spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received.
“Tesco has always been a place for people to get on in their career, regardless of their gender, background or education, and we work hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid fairly and equally for the jobs they do.”
The company said it carefully considers any changes to pay in partnership with the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, which is not involved in the case.