Asda About To Get Screwed By Equal Opportunities Legislation
Asda is about to find itself having to explain a slightly uncomfortable set of facts: the men in its warehouses who load up the trucks get paid rather more than the women who unload the trucks onto the shelves do. And, since it can be argued that loading and unloading a truck is rather the same thing then, given that it’s mostly men doing the one, and getting paid more, and mostly women doing the other and getting paid less, then therefore this is sexual discrimination.
And that’s exactly what is being alleged:
Legal firm Leigh Day said it had been approached by 19,000 people – mostly women – after it announced it was taking action against the retailer.
The legal business said the case centres around women employed in Asda’s stores being paid less than male colleagues doing a similar work in its distribution chain.
“In the supermarkets the check-out staff and shelf-stackers are mostly women,” said Michael Newman, an employment law specialist at Leigh Day. “The people in the warehouses are pretty much all men. And, as a whole, the group that is mostly men gets paid more.”
“Our investigations suggest that the jobs are pretty much the same, in that warehouse staff are responsible for taking items off shelves, putting them on pallets and loading them into lorries.
“In the supermarket, they do the reverse: taking the pallets off the lorries, unstacking them and putting the items on the shelves.
“Where the jobs are not similar, we still think they are of equal value.”
Paying people for the same work differently is illegal of course. Illegal if it’s based upon such things as gender or race that is. There is another view possible, of course there is:
An Asda spokesman said: “A firm of no-win, no-fee lawyers is hoping to challenge our award-winning reputation as an equal opportunities employer.
“We do not discriminate and are very proud of our record in this area which, if it comes to it, we will robustly defend.”
And then there’s the more nuanced view that an economist might offer. Those warehouse jobs are indeed largely being done by men. Those instore jobs are indeed largely being done by women.
The obvious assumption is that there’s something about either end of the work that preferentially attracts (or repels) men and or women. None of us do think that Asda is being stupid enough to insist that only men can work in the warehouses, or only women in the stores: that’s so illegal that we really don’t think they’re that dumb. so, why do we have this gender segregation? We can come up with all sorts of theories but the most likely one is that there’s a difference in the physical strength required. Manhandling a tonne or two of pallet onto a truck is going to be rather different from placing the tomato sauce bottles on the shelf. And that is one area where there really are differences between the sexes: men do have greater physical strength (on average and in general).
Quite how the case will play out no one is at yet sure: but I’d run with the lawyers trying it on as my own opinion.