Supreme Court decision has repercussions for employers

UK supermarket workers have been most affected by low earnings since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a new survey.

Nearly half of non-specialist retail workers in the UK have earned below the living wage, according to The Living Wage Foundation.

The foundation’s analysis of Office for National Statistics data found 45 per cent of non-specialised retail workers, such as supermarket employees, have earned below the living wage – £9.50 outside London and £10.85 in London.

The Real Living Wage is the name now used by the Living Wage Foundation for their recommended minimum rate. It is a voluntary amount based on what people need to live and is different from the minimum wage which rises to £8.91 in April.

On November 9, 2020, it increased by 20p to £9.50 per hour for workers outside London. In London, the Real Living Wage has been boosted by 10p to £10.85.

As more equal pay tribunals are beginning to be brought against large retail chains like Asda and Co-op, there may be long-term repercussions if retail workers continue to be underpaid.

Last Friday (March 26) the Supreme Court ruled Asda’s retail staff, who are mostly women, can compare their work to those in warehouse distribution centres.

Over 44,000 shop workers argued they should be paid the same as the predominantly male staff who work in the chain’s depots. They earn on average £1.50 to £3 an hour more than the shop workers.

The victory for Asda workers could see the supermarket chain face a £500 million compensation claim.

Asda store workers may have won this battle – but the war is far from over.

The Supreme Court has ruled that for the purposes of equal pay the work of the mainly male distribution workers can be compared to the mainly female shop floor workers.

But next they need to prove their work is of equal value – in terms of skills and training.

And finally that gender is the key reason that their pay is different.

Laura Gardiner, director, Living Wage Foundation, said retail workers who have been the backbone of our businesses and society during successive lockdowns, must be safeguarded.

She added: “Paying the real Living Wage is not only the right thing for employers to do, but also increases staff motivation and productivity, and reduces staff turnover.

“The experience of this pandemic should prompt British firms to rethink how they value essential workers, with a first step being employers in key worker sectors signing up to pay the Living Wage to all staff.”

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