What The Tesco Equal Pay Claim Teaches Us About Job Evaluation

Back in 2018, thousands of Tesco workers rallied together to launch an equal pay claim against the UK’s largest supermarket. The crux of their claim? That in-store workers were being paid significantly less than distribution workers for work of the same value. With 6 years of high-profile court hearings and billions of pounds of back pay at play, the case has put pay equality firmly in the spotlight. In this post, we’ll look beyond the headlines at the vital lessons all businesses can learn from Tesco’s mistakes.

Tesco Equal Pay Claim

What’s The Claim?

In February 2018, a group of 100 Tesco employees launched an equal pay claim against their employer. The disgruntled in-store workers argued that they were earning up to £3 less per hour than their warehouse and distribution colleagues.

Of course, different job roles within the same company can be - and are - paid drastically differently. Yet, the claim here rests on the idea that both of the Tesco job roles in question constitute equal work. 

Claimants argue that both roles require the same level of skill and worker attributes in order to complete the job. Essentially, the job responsibilities of the two are the same, just performed in reverse by in-store workers. 

As Tesco’s shop floor workers are predominantly female, and their distribution worker colleagues are predominantly male, this is a gendered issue. If Tesco can’t justify why the two roles are paid differently, it can be argued that the paid discrepancy boils down to gender-based discrimination.

Section 66 of the 2010 Equality Act makes it crystal clear that equal pay for equal work is a legal requirement. Any differences in pay on the basis of gender are against the law.

Throughout the last six years, the number of claimants - represented by Harkus Parker - has snowballed to at least 6,000 and celebrated a series of groundbreaking legal wins.

Throughout 26 separate hearings, both UK and European courts have ruled that the two job roles are comparable for equal pay purposes. Now, only a final hearing stands between the claimants and a win.

What Does This All Mean For Tesco? 

This has been a costly legal battle for Tesco - and not just financially. Headline-hitting stories have inflicted reputational damage for the supermarket chain who have often put shop-floor workers front and centre in their advertising campaigns

Through the six years of hearings, Tesco has remained steadfast in their argument that jobs in their stores and in their distribution centres are not directly comparable. The two roles, they claim, in fact require different skills and demands - hence explaining their different rates of pay.

However, the financial costs of a loss stand to be astronomical. If workers win their claim, they will be entitled to claim up to 6 years of back pay. This could be worth over £10,000 for each individual shop floor employee and over £4 billion collectively. 

And it’s not just Tesco who are in seriously hot water; Asda, Co-Op and Sainsbury’s are all currently battling their own similar equal pay claims. It’s thought that, at the UK’s 4 largest supermarket chains, about 584,000 current UK supermarket workers and an unknown number of former workers could be entitled to back pay, resulting in a total pay-out exceeding £10 billion.

So, if the Tesco pay claim has proved anything, it’s that equal pay isn’t a vague concept or ethical ideal: it’s the law. From just one hundred employees launching a claim to billions of pounds at stake, it’s clear that even the largest corporations cannot sidestep their responsibility for equal pay.

Job Evaluation In The Spotlight

The major crack in Tesco’s defence is that their job evaluation system - the method they used to assess the value of roles in comparison to one another - simply isn’t valid. In fact, initial employment tribunals described Tesco’s job evaluation system as ‘an exploratory exercise only’ that ‘was not complete in any meaningful sense of the word’. 

A watertight job evaluation system is an organisation’s first line of defence when it comes to justifying pay disparities. In order to be valid in court, a JE system must analyse the various characteristics of each job, separating them into their constituent parts, rather than comparing and ordering jobs as a whole.

Getting It Right With gradar

Perhaps you’re thinking: if a corporate giant like Tesco can get it so wrong, is it because measuring equal work is a complex, finance-intensive task? The truth is, no - job evaluation isn’t an enigma, and it certainly doesn’t need to cost the Earth.

Considering a wide range of factors such as professional knowledge, specific responsibilities and interpersonal skills, gradar offers a deeply analytical and highly objective approach to job evaluation. It can accurately establish when jobs are of an equal value - and therefore require, by law, equal pay.

gradar is an affordable, complete job evaluation system that is accessible to all businesses. Even better, with a simple interface and easy functionality, it can be operated in-house.

So, learn from Tesco’s mistakes and build pay equality into your job architecture. If ever your organisation finds itself in an equal pay court, you’ll be glad to have gradar on your side.