Women who are challenging Tesco over years of allegedly unequal pay have laid bare their feelings about their employer, with one saying cuts to her income have been “devastating”.
Two women, who have both worked at the supermarket for more than 20 years, told HuffPost UK their cases had “opened their eyes” to the issue, as they prepare to be part of legal claim saying their jobs on the shop floor, where most staff are women, should be paid as much as jobs in warehouses, where most staff are men.
Warehouse staff earn up to £3 an hour more. The women’s lawyers have accused Tesco, which employs 250,000 people in its UK stores, of an “inherent bias”, adding the pay claim could cost the supermarket giant £4 billion in back pay.
Pam Jenkins, a 57-year-old who works mainly nights at the store in Baldock, Hertfordshire, learned of the pay gap when dealing with a separate legal case concerning cuts to pay for those working unsociable hours.
She told HuffPost: “I am loyal. I’ve worked there for 26 years. We’re the face of Tesco to the customer. I don’t feel valued now. I feel like loyalty doesn’t count. I feel a bit let down.”
It is a pay claim of the sort pioneered in 1984 by Julie Hayward, a cook who successfully claimed her work was equal to men who worked in other jobs in her Liverpool shipyard.
Jenkins added: “It’s a shame. I feel quite sad we’re still having to have this argument. I would’ve thought it would’ve been sorted by now.”
Jenkins said she lost around £200 a month in 2016 when Tesco cut longer-serving employees’ extra pay for working Sundays, nights and bank holidays from double-time to time-and-a-half.
She began working 12 hours a week in 1991 and took more work on as her children got older and now does around 31 hours a week.
She said her job included a lot of physical work similar to working in Tesco’s warehouses, adding hers was “not exactly the same role but it’s of comparable value”.
Kim Element, 56, who has worked at Tesco for 23 years, said she felt “beyond disappointed” and “a lot of sadness” after learning warehouse staff earned more.
She added: “Don’t get me wrong, Tesco have been a good employer but they’ve kind of taken their finger off the pulse.
“I feel disappointed they didn’t step up earlier. It’s kind of been ignored.”
She calculated she lost £209 net every four weeks from cuts to the Sunday and night-time bonus and stands to lose another £100 when it is cut later this year to time-and-a-quarter.
Element, a single parent to three now grown sons, who works at the store in Hemel Hempstead, is moving to a smaller house as she can no longer afford her mortgage and cannot afford to fix her car, which she says has an oil leak.
She said: “It’s devastating. It’s not just a matter of few pounds here and there...
“I haven’t been on holiday for years... I sit in the cold rather than have the heating on. That’s become the norm.”
When asked what difference being paid at the rate of the warehouse staff would make, she said: “That’s something I’m just beginning to think about...
“This has really got me thinking about how we think society has moved on... It really hasn’t. Employers need to step up and take responsibility.”
How The Case Works
Law firm Leigh Day has estimated Tesco’s shop floor staff are between 60% and 65% female. Paula Lee, who is representing the Tesco women, added the warehouses are “predominantly” male but said they did not have more detailed figures on them.
But she added there could be grounds for a claim even if both the shop floor and warehouses employed equal numbers of men and women - the Equality Act only requires a claimant can compare themselves to a member of the opposite sex earning more in a role they believe is of equal value to theirs.
Male shopfloor workers stand to gain as much as their female colleagues if the claim is successful.
Lee told HuffPost: “You don’t need to work in a completely male or female environment... It’s about an individual comparing their terms against someone doing equal work.
“The law is there. It’s inviting you to compare your job, be you a man or woman, but obviously comparing it with someone of the opposite sex, to a role that is similar in terms of demand.”
She added: “Women’s work has traditionally been undervalued. We see it now...
“Employers have got bigger and bigger. You’ve got these complex undertakings... It might be when Tesco first started, it probably didn’t have a massive distribution centre, so it’s had its women in retail. That’s where the historical bias comes up.”
Lee added: ″I don’t think there’s an intention to discriminate on the grounds of gender...
“Where employers have a risk, is if they don’t review their systems and don’t think ‘why are we paying people that?’”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received.
“Tesco has always been a place for people to get on in their career, regardless of their gender, background or education, and we work hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid fairly and equally for the jobs they do.”