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Pre-Brexit application to European Court of Justice in equal pay case

An application to the European Court of Justice for clarification on equal pay legislation has been made by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of Tesco supermarket workers.

European Court of Justice

23 August 2019

It is thought that the application may be one of the last major decisions by the EU in relation to UK employment law before Brexit. If the European Court agrees with Leigh Day’s clients this will lead to greater protection for workers in all of Leigh Day’s equal pay cases and benefit underpaid female workers across the UK. 

Leigh Day is representing thousands of Tesco workers who work on the shop floor in the supermarkets and are demanding equal pay with those who work in Tesco’s distribution centres. Store staff are asking the European Court of Justice to clarify an important part of equal pay law which will make equal pay claims easier for them, and women employed throughout the UK.  The legal clarification will seek to allow women to compare their pay against that of male colleagues employed by the same employer who work in different establishments. 

Tesco employs workers in its stores and distribution centres and is responsible for the pay, contracts and benefits at both. Despite this Tesco argues that under UK law it isn’t clear that the women in stores can claim equal pay with men in the distribution centres. Tesco have argued that EU law cannot be relied upon by claimants in equal pay claims because the same people are not responsible for both the terms and conditions of employment in stores and distribution centres as they are independent of each other.  

A pre-Brexit  referral to the European Court on whether EU law applies to Tesco would bind the UK government and apply to any future equal pay case, if we leave under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. It is hoped that even if a no deal Brexit goes ahead, given the application is made before the 31st October, then any positive ruling which may be a year or more away will be respected by the UK courts and UK employers.

Leigh Day is currently representing over 40,000 store workers across the top five supermarkets in the UK – Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-Op – in similar equal pay claims. 

Kiran Daurka, solicitor in Leigh Day’s employment team, said:

“We have made this application on behalf of our clients because employers have repeatedly argued that UK law is not clear.  We hope that a judgment from Europe will make clear the rights of UK workers to bring equal pay claims.  The UK’s equal pay laws are reinforced by EU law and we hope that the EU will give our clients the extra protection they should be entitled to.”

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