Next facing £30m equal pay claim from shop-floor staff

Next is facing a demand for up to £30m in back pay from thousands of mainly female shop-floor staff in the first major equal pay claim against a fashion retailer.

More than 300 workers have registered to participate in a claim that was filed at the conciliation service Acas on Wednesday. They say they are paid £7.50 an hour or an average £2 an hour less than mainly male warehouse workers who they view as doing work of equal value. The warehouse staff also have access to more lucrative bonuses.

The average salary loss for the group is about £6,000 and it’s anticipated that between 3,000 and 5,000 workers will ultimately sign up to the group claim, which could take the claim to £30m. Next employs about 45,000 people in the UK, around 30,000 of whom are women working in its stores.

The Next claim comes hot on the heels of a similar action against Tesco, which faces a demand for up to £4bn in back pay from thousands of mainly female shop workers in what could become the UK’s largest ever equal pay claim.

Similar actions against Asda and Sainsbury’s are also working their way through the employment tribunal process, while Morrisons also faces a potential claim as lawyers have gathered more than 200 names with the intention of approaching Acas in the near future.

Lawyers acting for the Next shop assistants say that on a typical day they undertake a number of demanding tasks requiring both mental and physical agility that are comparable to tasks carried out by warehouse workers. Under employment law, those doing work of equal value, not necessarily the same work, are entitled to equal pay.

Elizabeth George, head of employment at Pattinson Brewer, which is acting for the Next claimants, said arrangements at the fashion chain were “another classic example of historical discrimination that has never been corrected”.

“Shop-floor work was always perceived as women’s work and so thought to be worth less than work in the warehouses which was traditionally perceived as men’s work,” she said.

“It is open to Next to approach these claims differently from say, Asda. They can spend months (possibly years) fighting the claims or they can take a radically different and progressive approach and work with us to put this problem right.”

Next said it had not been notified by Acas and was currently unaware of any claims against it.

A spokesman for the company said: “The difference between working in a warehouse and a store at Next is, however, more significant than for any of the retailers now involved in litigation.

“Next values all its employees, regardless of their gender, role and place of work within the business. Next is also confident that all its employees are paid legally, fairly and appropriately for the jobs they perform.”

George suggested more retail equal pay claims were likely to be on the way.

Nearly 20,000 people are involved in the Asda case, where the latest ruling backed the shopworkers’ right to compare their jobs to employees – mainly men – working in distribution centres. Asda is due to appeal against that ruling at the court of appeal in October. About 1,000 workers are involved in the Sainsbury’s action.

Unequal pay has also become a big battleground in the public sector, with female cleaners and dinner ladies taking legal action over claims they are paid less than binmen or male street cleaners. Birmingham city council agreed to pay more than £1bn to settle the claims of tens of thousands of women, which stretch back over many years. There have also been claims against Glasgow city council, Dudley council and Wolverhampton city council.