Supermarket faces potential equal pay claim from shop floor workers

Morrisons is the latest British retailer in the gender pay spotlight

Supermarket chain Morrisons is being targeted by lawyers who say they will bring a potential claim for equal pay from shop floor workers who allege they were underpaid compared to colleagues in equivalent jobs.

Just weeks after a similar claim was launched against Tesco, law firm Roscoe Reid said it was planning to bring a group employment tribunal claim centring on alleged pay inequality between current and former workers on Morrisons’ shop floors and those in its associated distribution centres. 

Women make up around 70 per cent of Morrisons’ shop floor workers, while the distribution centre workers are predominantly men. 

Morrisons’ shop floor staff involved in the action, including customer assistants, say their work is of ‘equal value’ to that of the workers in distribution centres. They could potentially claim thousands each in back pay over the past six years.

Manchester-based Roscoe Reid, which will act on behalf of the workers, has estimated that up to 25,000 individuals are eligible to claim, including those who left the retailer over the last six years. Full-time, part-time and casual workers across all 498 Morrisons stores in the UK are eligible.

The firm claims that the female workers have been paid around £2 per hour less for equivalent value work, dating back to 2003. By law, the maximum period for which they can claim is six years’ pay before issue of the claim, worth on average around £4,000 a year each for a full-time worker.

Morrisons said it had not yet received a legal claim. A spokesman said: “Our aim is to pay our colleagues fairly and equally for the job that they do, irrespective of their gender.”

Common misunderstandings regarding equal pay cases linger on the misconception that roles must be the same to claim equal pay. The claim is based on equal value jobs, not a straight comparison of individual tasks, Roscoe Reid said. Morrisons is likely to say that the roles are fundamentally different.

The claim is that the value of the relevant jobs to the employer is the same and is assessed at a similar value – whether or not one role is physical and involves heavy lifting, for example, and another is providing service to customers on the shop floor. 

Three other British supermarkets – Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco – are defending similar equal pay compensation claims currently lodged with English courts. The total number of claimants in those cases is approximately 130,000. 

In 2017, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that staff working in Asda shops could compare themselves to workers in its depots for equal pay purposes.

A 2016 tribunal ruling meant that current and former Asda employees, nearly all women, could bring an equal pay claim comparing their remuneration to better-paid male distribution workers.

Ellie Pinnells, lawyer at Roscoe Reid, said: “We fully expect these claims to succeed and we also expect many more current and former store workers to join our current group of claimants.”

The firm said it would launch the legal claim in the coming months, initially through Acas.