Tesco’s Female Workers Get EU Boost in Fight Over Equal Pay

Thousands of female Tesco Plc workers in the U.K. were handed a post-Brexit boost after the European Union’s top court said the bloc’s rules on equal pay for equal work can be invoked in supermarket pay cases.

The U.K.’s largest retailer lost a ruling Thursday, which allows EU law to be taken into account when determining if predominantly female shop workers can compare the work they do to those who work in Tesco’s warehouses.

EU law “has direct effect” in cases where “failure to observe the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for work of equal value” is argued, the EU Court of Justice ruled.

The decision comes after Tesco’s rival Asda Group Ltd. lost a dispute over equal pay at the U.K. Supreme Court, saying the salaries earned by women who work in grocery stores could be compared to men who predominantly work in warehouses. The case could lead to a hefty bill for Asda and support litigation against Tesco and J Sainsbury Plc, and other retailers.

“For a long time, employers have argued that U.K. law in this area is unclear, but this judgment is simple,” said Kiran Daurka, employment lawyer at Leigh Day, who brought the case on behalf of around 6,000 current and former Tesco employees.

“Employers can no longer hide behind the grey areas of U.K. law,” she said. “It’s time for supermarkets to accept that the roles of shop floor workers and distribution center workers are comparable.”

Tesco said the jobs in its stores and distribution centers “are different,” and that the roles “require different skills and demands which lead to variations in pay.”

“These claims are extremely complex and will take many years to reach a conclusion. We continue to strongly defend these claims,” a company spokesperson said.

The Tesco dispute is being handled by the EU court because the case was sent to the tribunal before the U.K.’s Brexit transition ended at the start of this year.

The case will now return to a U.K. employment tribunal to determine whether the roles are comparable and the reasons behind the pay discrepancy. It’s likely to be many years before a final ruling.

The EU court case is: C-624/19, Tesco Stores.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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