Equal Pay for Unequal Work

I can’t see this being successful:

Tesco is facing Britain’s largest ever equal pay claim and a possible bill running to £4bn.
Thousands of women who work in Tesco stores could receive back pay totalling £20,000 if the legal challenge demanding parity with men who work in the company’s warehouses is successful.
Lawyers say hourly-paid female store staff earn less than men even though the value of the work is comparable.

That lawyers think warehouse work is comparable with that in the shop floor doesn’t surprise me: I doubt they have the slightest idea what either is like.  But doesn’t the law say the work must be the same, not merely “comparable” in a way defined by a lawyer?

Paula Lee, of Leigh Day solicitors, the firm acting for up to 1,000 women who are likely to take test cases, told the BBC it was time for Tesco to tackle the problem of equal pay for work of equal worth.
The most common rate for women is £8 an hour whereas for men the hourly rate can be as high as £11 an hour, she added.

I would imagine all Tesco need to is demonstrate there is equal pay between men and women working in the store, something which ought to be rather straightforward. What people – men or women – are paid in the warehouse, under different conditions which are easy to list, is irrelevant.

I suspect the lawyers know this, but have decided to leap on the equal pay bandwagon to give themselves publicity, further the narrative, and maybe shake down Tesco in the process, who might not want the adverse publicity.

That said, if the court ruling goes against Tesco, it may open the door for men working in warehouses to demand equal pay with the powerskirts loafing around in air-conditioned offices. But I think this will be thrown out long before then.

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29 thoughts on “Equal Pay for Unequal Work

  1. Yes, even “equal value” is an interesting concept which can provide lawyers and Guardianista amateur philosophers with hours of fun. If the company can’t do without warehouse staff, and can’t do without shop workers, then to that extent they are equally valuable. Come to think of it, they can’t do without customers either, so can I make my claim now?

  2. Value being determined in accordance with the official victimhood hierarchy. If you’re a gay trans Muslim, you have the right to take over any mansion in London, unless the current owners are political donors of course.

    PS hard to comment here lol

  3. Surely the solution for the till girls is to go and work in the warehouse, no?

    I imagine it requires physical strength, qualification and skill with a forklift truck, and being on your feet a lot of the day.

    I hope they bring this to court and it gets slapped down since the jobs are in no way similar.

  4. I seem to recall a bunch of council dinner ladies being awarded back pay because they were paid less than refuse workers. A quick google shows this was common so lots of potential for this to be found against Tesco.

    PS liked the book

  5. There is absolutely no problem here. If the ladies win then Tesco, and t’others, will merely pass on their increased costs to the consumer.

    So what if the price of essentials like Creme Eggs doubles and fripperies like bread and milk treble? Tesco will pay only briefly, then it’s down to the shoppers to balance the books.

    Rumour has it no one in the warehouses, offices and on the shop floor have to pay a penny for their shoppings so they won’t be affected.*

    *A cynical comment, best ignored.

  6. Yeah I wouldn’t be so sure. The case law is that the jobs being compared do not actually need to be identical.

    Of course it’s all rather ridiculous; no-one was stopping women working in warehouses, and plenty of men work a shelf-stackers in store.

    Would be interested to hear how you think the work is different, as the argument is basically going to be that both stack shelves with the same stuff. Just different buildings. Plus patriarchy.

  7. I’m not an expert but note that in the Birmingham council case, cooks and care workers were deemed to be underpaid compared to road workers and refuse collectors, despite very different skill sets being required and despite the extra physical risk posed to people who work on public roads. In fact, despite them operating in quite distinct labour markets – the cooks being recruited from a labour pool where the council was competing with the restaurant trade and commercial caterers, whereas refuse collectors might instead be doing eg manual labour on a construction site. So the legal definition here is obviously very broad. Given how much it can come back to bite you years later in a way that might not seem intuitive (unless one has obtained expensive legal advice first) this would have to go down on my “reasons never to employ someone” list!

  8. Would be interested to hear how you think the work is different, as the argument is basically going to be that both stack shelves with the same stuff.

    At a guess: warehouse work is more physical, e.g. you have to carry empty wooden pallets and other coarse packing material short distances; some work is outdoors and overall environment less pleasant; some require special training, e.g. a forklift license; you’d need to be working more around lorries and forklifts, increasing the residual risks; risk of dropped objects is higher; PPE will be bulkier, more restrictive; location of work might be more remote; shifts might be longer and across less socialble hours; some work might require working in cold storage units; fewer in-house benefits, e.g. reduction on groceries; etc.

    I take the commenters’ points about the Birmingham council workers case. I think we can expect Tesco to fight this a little harder than the public sector, who are only spending other people’s money.

  9. “fewer in-house benefits, e.g. reduction on groceries; etc”

    Yeah, but free access to as much ‘damaged’ stuff your car will carry is a pretty good benefit all the same.

  10. I think they could win, the Birmingham case where men working outside in the rain etc were compared to be equal to people working inside was a joke.

  11. When did people start saying “reticent” when they mean “reluctant”? When the schools went all to hell?

  12. Leigh Day are ambulance chasers par excellence, and have previous:

    It’s that same bunch of parasites?! Well, that explains everything, doesn’t it? The partners of that firm should have been hanged from the barrel of a Challenger Mk II.

  13. I just typed a longish comment about the Birmingham council case before seeing that others had beaten me to it – that’ll learn me!

    I hope and suspect that Tesco will fight this to win. As Tim says, the public sector is never troubled by spending other people’s money. In Birmingham (my home town) my bet is that relatively few people are contributors (net or otherwise) to the council coffers and so didn’t have a dog in the pay fight. I’ve come around to thinking that ‘No representation without taxation’ might be the way to go to cure this.

  14. What I don’t understand, and you point out earlier, its not like warehouse work is barred to women or that shop floor work is only reserved to them. If it was the same job requirements, women could apply to work in warehouses thereby increasing their pay. Its not like its hard to get these type of jobs.

    Also, like the grid girls being out of money to satisfy some femiloons, expect robots to start stacking shelves earlier than planned…

  15. the problem of equal pay for work of equal worth

    The worth of a job is determined entirely by how much you’re getting paid to do it, making this a circular argument. Economic illiteracy abounds.

  16. So all of the negative, supposedly “unintended” consequences of abandoning liberty as a principle in favor of feel-good legislation barring discrimination occur, yet radical libertarians are still racist, misogynist bigots even when proven correct.

    When you find yourself justifying wages paid by someone else you’ve already lost the argument. A free person’s proper response is, “because it’s [my/their] money, go f*** yourself.” It’s been one long tactical retreat since 1965, at least in the US.

  17. “I take the commenters’ points about the Birmingham council workers case. I think we can expect Tesco to fight this a little harder than the public sector, who are only spending other people’s money.”

    I’m pretty sure that Birmingham did fight this quite solidly. Local government is a bit different to central as they can’t just print more money.

    I don’t know what people think the end game is if this is won because some activist judge decides on this. My guess is a combination of two things: 1) massive levels of outsourcing to small third party companies that lawyers won’t touch 2) those companies hiring lots of men on the quiet 3) even greater levels of automation, putting more people out of work.

    But I do know I’m fucking fucked off with all of this. Quit if your job sucks that much. 26 years in a job at Tesco, and now she complains? Oh, do fuck off.

    Next revolution is the legal system: fire judges who try and make law.

  18. 3) even greater levels of automation

    This. BS lawsuits like this plus unrealistic minimum wage levels equals massive unskilled unemployment.

  19. From a bit of superficial reading, it seems the council lost its case because they put dinner ladies and binmen (or binwomen) on the same pay band of their scale.

    Then they ended up offering loads of bonuses to the binmen to take their effective earnings much higher, which the dinner ladies didn’t have access to. Because they weren’t hauling bins in the winter rain, although apparently that was considered irrelevant.

    Obviously that’s an example of Stalinist bureaucracy getting hoisted by its own petard in some respects (though I’m sure large, ossified corporates are not immune). But it’s still pretty ridiculous.

  20. I suppose it’s redundant to point out this is how markets work. If job A pays more than job B then people switch to job A. Pay for job A goes down because of an increase in the supply of labour, and pay for job B goes up because of a decrease in the supply of labour.

  21. Exactly – the question is will the warehouse guys do the same job in the warehouse but for the store-front personnel’s pay. If not, they are obviously more valuable as they can take off and get a better rate elsewhere. Whereas this isn’t the case with the retail staff, hence their current pay rate.

  22. Sounds like bullshit – “The _most common rate_ for women is £8 an hour whereas for men the hourly rate _can be as high_ as £11 an hour”. And the most common rate for men is?

  23. As a starving author I look forward to the day when the government decrees that I shall be paid the same as Lee Child.

    The only problem in that scenario will be that overnight the number of authors will increase enormously.

  24. “As a starving author I look forward to the day when the government decrees that I shall be paid the same as Lee Child.”

    I have heard Lee Child speak. He was very proud of the fact he had challenged (and said won) any case involving motoring ‘offences’ (which in fairness they often aren’t) so I think he would move heaven and earth to make sure no matter how much better pay other authors got, he would still get a big pay day.

    (Possibly lesser known fact about Mr Child’s pen name: he once encountered a Texan who was very taken with Renault’s ‘Le Car’ promotion but pronounced it ‘Leee Car.’ So the author and wife started calling everything Leee this and Leee that. So, when their offspring was born the little one was addressed as ‘Leee Child.’ From that, he says, a pen name was born.)

  25. My first job was in a large supermarket. I started on £2.02 an hour at age 16 in 2005. By 2006 I was on £4.04 and then I switched to Sundays which was double time at £8.08 and I remained until my A-Levels were done. During that time there were at least 3 contracts shoved in my face to try to make me accept new terms where Sundays weren’t double time. Most of the people working during the week would sign anything you put in front of them. The Sunday crew were virtually all undergraduates (and they would terrorise the permanent management team with arguments over optimisation, and by refusing to sign new contracts that would mean they lost money)

    Certain skills allowed you to claim a salary uplift – mechanised forklifts was one, stock control and inventory was another, or working in the freezers more than 2hrs in a shift of 8hrs. but you were only allowed 2 assigned skills due to union rules, and most new starters were checkout trained automatically and this didn’t come with any uplift. As a result virtually every shelf-stacker I met was on a different rate.

    Most women I knew there opted for the “skills” carrying no uplift, as they didn’t involve getting involved with machinery, uncomfortable conditons or waste, far preferring working counters and checkouts where customer interaction was commonplace. That said, most team lead jobs went to women, which did command a 50% raise of your hourly rate.

    Warehouse work was very different to the shop floor. Mistakes on the shop floor would have a cost of a couple of hundred quid. Mistakes in warehousing would be a couple of hundred thousand. The shop floor worked in kilos, the warehouse was in tonnes. Everything was bigger, more time critical and there were infinitely more chances to get oneself killed, and virtually everything done required a decent amount of specialist training. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that average warehouse wages would be higher.

  26. I also worked in a supermarket when I was a student as one of my many part time jobs to support myself whilst studying, although a decade or so earlier than Bloke from India above.

    Similar rates of pay, started on £1.65 / hour when 16 years old, increasing to £2.27 / hour at 17 and then £3.65 once over 18 ( funny how those pay rates have stuck in my brain, probably because I thought it really unfair that my mate who worked alongside me doing exactly the same job got paid more just because he was born earlier in the year). Wonder if I can go back and sue for age ism?

    Anyway, with a few exceptions it was generally the women who worked the tills, men worked the warehouse and a mix of both stacked the shelves. From what I recall all jobs paid the same rate).
    I did a mixture of warehouse and shelf stacking and warehouse work was definitely the most physically demanding. I would regularly finish my shift drenched in sweat, or having froze my bollocks off working outside or in the unheated warehouse.
    I recall at some point, some of the women complained that they thought it unfair that they always worked the tills so one evening I turned up and found the warehouse full of women.
    The vast majority lasted only one shift, complaining it was too cold, too tiring, they were constantly getting cuts on their fingers (the inside edge of cardboard boxes are surprisingly sharp), and they didn’t get to talk anyone. I worked alongside the main ring leader who lasted about a month. One shift I turned up and eventually found her back on the tills. She admitted the warehouse work was far harder than she imagined.
    My local council went through a similar claim a number of years ago and resulted in a huge payout. Therefore, sadly I wouldnt be surprised if the Tesco claim is successful due to political pressure with said pressure being applied by middle class virtue signallers who have definitely not worked in a warehouse and probably haven’t done a days real work in their lives.

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