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Supermarket bosses awarded millions in salaries and bonuses while failing to tackle unequal pay for shop floor workers

While supermarket shop floor workers struggle to make ends meet due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, their bosses are still receiving huge salaries and bonuses. In this blog, employment solicitor Lara Kennedy questions why the big supermarkets allow such pay inequality to continue.

Posted on 16 June 2023

Despite a recent dip in profits for some of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains, their bosses continue to receive millions of pounds in pay and bonuses. The CEOs of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons all received more than £4 million a year in salary and bonuses according to the latest figures, with their counterparts at Asda and the Co-op also receiving packages running well into seven figures.

This means that some of the highest paid supermarket bosses earn around 200 times more what the average worker in their company earns. This glaring wage gap between those at the top and bottom of these supermarket chains raises questions about fairness within their pay structures and how they attribute value amongst their workforce.

Justifying its decision to pay Chief Executive David Potts £4.2m, including £1.7m in bonuses, in 2021, Morrisons said this was reward for “a genuinely exceptional year which produced a genuinely exceptional performance from the executive leadership”. The company argued that executives had shown “leadership, clarity, decisiveness, compassion and speed of both decision-making and execution”.

But, whatever the reasoning, while the bosses continue to receive sky-high pay, the shop floor workers who keep the tills ringing are still being paid less than their male colleagues in distribution centres for work which we argue is of equal value. For years now store workers have asked to be paid fairly, bringing equal pay claims which are defended by the supermarkets costing them millions in legal fees.

Why is equal pay so important? 

Supermarket bosses cannot deny how important shop floor workers are in ensuring the success of their business. The successful running of supermarkets are due in no small part to the work they put in. Shop floor workers, the majority of which are female, are on the front line, ensuring shelves remain stocked and keeping the all-important customers happy. Their hard work should be reflected in their pay and it’s unacceptable that they are paid less than their male colleagues in distribution centres. It’s high time for supermarket to reward those who ensure the successful day-to-day running of stores, not just the big bosses at the top of the chain.

What are Leigh Day doing to support shop floor workers?

It’s time to move away from the outdated opinion that the work of shop floor workers is not of equal value to that of their distribution colleagues. Both the work done by distribution workers and store workers contribute and is essential to the smooth running of the store. Distribution workers load the lorries with stock which store workers unload and place on supermarket shelves. However, store works must also contend with customers, the core of their business model, and are the face of the supermarket. Despite this, store workers are paid up to £4 less per hour amounting to thousands of pounds less per year.

Leigh Day is currently acting for more than 86,000 supermarket workers in their equal pay battle. We promise to continue working hard on their behalf for as long as it takes to ensure shop floor workers are paid fairly.

What is the next stage for the equal pay claims? 

There are three stages of an equal pay claim. All of our Equal Pay Now claims, which include claims against Next, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and the Co op have been successful in the first stage, known as comparability.

We are now working on the second stage, Equal Value. At this stage, following a hearing about the details of what each job entails, the independent experts score the store and distribution roles according to factors such as knowledge, responsibilities, skills and decision making. The judge will use this assessment to determine whether the two roles are of equal value.

If the roles are found to be of equal value, the third stage is to decide whether the supermarket has a defence for paying the women less. The supermarket would have to show that there is a reason for the pay difference that is not based on sex. Factors can include geographical location, different shift patterns, length of service or different skills, qualifications, and experience. If the supermarket is unsuccessful in this, the store workers will win their claim and be entitled to up to six years’ of back pay in compensation and an increase in pay going forward.

Lara Kennedy
Employment Group claims

Lara Kennedy

Lara is a partner in the employment and discrimination claims team

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