Thousands of female shop floor workers are taking legal action against Asda over pay inequality.
They claim they are paid less than many male employees working in warehouses, despite doing equally valuable work for the supermarket chain.
Law firm Leigh Day told the Guardian that 19,000 Asda employees had approached it since April, when it first revealed that it was representing 400 of the supermarket's employees.
“In the supermarkets the checkout staff and shelf-stackers are mostly women. The people in the warehouses are pretty much all men. And, as a whole, the group that is mostly men gets paid more,” said Michael Newman, a discrimination and employment law expert at the firm.
“Our investigations suggest that the jobs are pretty much the same, in that warehouse staff are responsible for taking items off shelves, putting them on pallets and loading them into lorries. In the supermarket, they do the reverse: taking the pallets off the lorries, unstacking them and putting the items on the shelves. Where the jobs are not similar, we still think they are of equal value.”
The case has the potential to be the biggest employment claim in the private sector in history, according to the legal firm. It employs 170,000 staff across 370 stores, and could be forced to pay staff the difference in earnings going back six years if it loses the claim.
A spokesperson for Asda was adamant that the supermarket chain did not discriminate based on gender, however. “A firm of no-win, no-fee lawyers are hoping to challenge our award-winning reputation as an equal opportunities employer. We do not discriminate and are very proud of our record in this area which, if it comes to it, we will robustly defend,” they said.