Monday, 7 June 2021

This hardly makes sense

From the BBC:

Thousands of current and former Tesco workers have won a legal argument in their fight for equal pay. The European Court of Justice has ruled that an EU law could be relied on in making equal pay claims against their employer.

Tesco workers, mostly women, have argued that they failed to receive equal pay for work of equal value with colleagues in its distribution centres who are mostly men. They said this breached EU and UK laws.


1. Why is EU law relevant? It could only be relevant for pay periods up to 31 January 2020, and I'm not sure whether courts would ever retrospectively give people pay rises.

2. A sane and rational person would assume that distribution centre workers get paid a bit more (it appears to be average £13/hour rather than average £10/hour for shop workers) because the work is physically or mentally harder; requires more specialised skill and experience; involves less flexible shifts, more early/late shifts and night shifts; involves a longer commute etc.

3. Clearly, if Tesco paid male shop workers more than female shop workers (or male distribution centre workers more than female distribution centre workers), this would be wrong, that does not appear to be the case. Similarly, if Tesco had a blanket policy of not employing women in their distribution centres, that would also be wrong, but again, that does not appear to be the case.

4. What if Tesco employed a similar mix of men and women in both shops and in distribution centres? Would anybody be able to allege indirect discrimination then? Methinks not.

Tesco, the UK's biggest retailer, and law firm Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the workers, sought clarification from the Court of Justice of the European Union. They asked the court to rule on a specific aspect of European law... Under EU law, a worker can be compared with somebody working in a different establishment if a "single source" has the power to correct the difference in pay...

Kiran Dauka, a partner in the employment team at Leigh Day, said: "This judgement reinforces the Supreme Court's ruling that the roles of shop floor workers can be compared to those of their colleagues in distribution centres for the purposes of equal pay."


5. That sounds like a stupid interpretation of a stupid rule to me.

Pam Jenkins, who works at Tesco, said: "To get a judgement confirming shop floor workers can use an easier legal test to compare their jobs to male colleagues in distribution is uplifting. I've always been proud to work at Tesco, but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres are being paid more is demoralising. I'm hopeful that Tesco will recognise the contribution shop floor workers make to the business and reflect that in our pay."

6. Be careful what you wish for - the most likely outcome here is that Tesco will employ even fewer people to work on the tills and have more of the self-checkouts. I personally much prefer being served by a human being, but at my local Tesco, they only staff about three out of about ten tills, so the queues are awful and I grudgingly use the self-checkouts (knowing that however indirectly, I am putting some poor sod out of work).

The legal test for comparability is only the first of three stages within Asda's overall pay claim, which is expected to take several years to conclude. Leigh Day is also handing similar equal pay claims against Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op, which are not as far advanced.

7. This bit makes sense, the whole thing is a wild goose chase and a gravy train for the lawyers. Judges are always happy to drag things out on their behalf, in case they ever want to go back into practrice.

12 comments:

Shiney said...

Mark

Madness, obviously, but enforced by economic illiterates who don't seem to understand that if you put up the cost of 'unskilled' and marginal labour to the employer you will get less jobs. The bar to automate away this sort of work is already pretty low and falling every year.

Look at Amazon and their till-less shops - Tesco Metros won't be far behind. Then, when everyone works in a warehouse, oops fulfilment centre, they'll automate those jobs away as well (for an example look at Ocado). If I was the Retail Director of any of the big grocers now I'd be pushing like hell for automated stores to getthem bedded in before this hits.

The cost of automation is always falling. And I should know - we produce twice as many units with less people than we did 10 years ago... and we don't have particularly big or complex capex needs.

Non-food retail sales are already on their arse (even in the big grocers) so it'll serve the twats right when all those retailers announce swinging job cuts as the end of furlough cuts disposable income in the economy this Autumn.

Bayard said...

The women aren't looking further than their payrise and the lawyers no further than their paycheck. Most people have no idea about economic forces and think that putting up the minimum wage will make everyone richer, apart from a few fat-cat capitalists who will be slightly less rich.

johnd2008 said...

Reminds me of the time in the early 70s when I worked for a GKN company. The unions went into management , argued for and won a 20% pay rise.Great celebrations all round. Then reality struck and 20% of us were made redundant. I did all right managing to get another job within 4weeks,mainly because I had done a lot of studying at night classes, but some of the others never worked again and suffered greatly.

mombers said...

"Be careful what you wish for - the most likely outcome here is that Tesco will employ even fewer people to work on the tills and have more of the self-checkouts"
The only way living standards can rise sustainably is if output per worker increases. We've realistically reached the limit of how efficiently a human can ring up goods, so it's a positive if there are fewer of these jobs. If a higher minimum wage makes low skilled jobs nonviable, then we'll all be richer in the long run. A citizen's dividend would take care of those who can't move into higher skilled jobs. Much better than private sector make-work enabled by low minimum wages that just about guarantee a high percentage of pointless working age means tested cash transfers.
Fulfilment jobs are notoriously bad, bring on automation there :-)

Lola said...

Leigh Day have form for this sort of thing. They 'promote' this type of action and work on a %age if they win. Largely this is driven by the collapse of the rule of law and personal responsibility. The 'claims' culture - it's always someone else's fault etc. And these men / women pay differentials have pretty well disappeared following the Ford Dagenham thing many many years ago. So scrap all the silly 'rules' and all of this will stop.

Mombers. Eggsaktly.

Intriguingly there was a piece in the DT business section yesterday about a chronic shortage of shop and caff workers. My solution to that is to release the millions of poor souls in wealth consuming activity in the public sector to pursue more rewarding work on the wealth creating private sector.

James Higham said...

How do they determine “equal work”, “equal value” in a warehouse requiring physical strength?

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sh, agreed.

B, agreed.

JD, yes, these things happen but it's still a bit sad.

M "We've realistically reached the limit of how efficiently a human can ring up goods, so it's a positive if there are fewer of these jobs"

Well have we and is it?

Either they do it for me (which I find less stressful) or I have to do it myself (so it's the same work, just different people doing it) and then stand around like a twat waiting for somebody to authorise something when it inevitably goes wrong.

The people at the tills are providing a *service* and a machine can't provide that *service*.

L, agreed.

JH, they're lawyers, they just make up some shit.

Lola said...

JH. Quite. And how about fractured service from childbearing? If there are two people of equal age, one a man with 20 years continuous service and the other a lady with 10 years service with 10 years off for having children how are they the same?

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, it's a bit more nuanced than that.

1. Clearly, somebody with young kids who wants a part time job will earn less, part time jobs just usually pay less.

2. In 'career' jobs, you get equal pay for equal work, but you tend to earn a bit more each year you stick with an employer, so the longer you've been there uninterrupted, the better. So even if kids can look after themselves, their mother working full time will earn less than somebody with no 'career gaps'.

3. In 'slog' jobs where it only takes a few days to learn the ropes and there's no 'career ladder', length of service probably has little impact on pay.

Like I've said before, why is this a big deal? It's just the way the world works, and couples usually share income and expenses, so it all comes out in the wash.

So post-uni, Mrs W and I earned pretty much the same, but twenty-five years later, I earn twice as much as she does. But she spent it all anyway, whoever earned it.

mombers said...

M, a mixture of human and automated checkout is best, giving customer choice. Human checkouts often are one queue per cashier vs one queue for multiple machines, so I prefer these as you can't get stuck in a queue behind one person who takes a lot longer than average for whatever reason. If I'd like a natter or looks like a quicker way to get booze authorisation then it's full fat checkout

Bayard said...

"My solution to that is to release the millions of poor souls in wealth consuming activity in the public sector to pursue more rewarding work on the wealth creating private sector."

The problem with that is that "wealth consuming activity in the public sector" is seen as higher status than being a shop assistant, waiter or waitress.

The Stigler said...

mombers,

"The only way living standards can rise sustainably is if output per worker increases. We've realistically reached the limit of how efficiently a human can ring up goods, so it's a positive if there are fewer of these jobs. If a higher minimum wage makes low skilled jobs nonviable, then we'll all be richer in the long run. A citizen's dividend would take care of those who can't move into higher skilled jobs. Much better than private sector make-work enabled by low minimum wages that just about guarantee a high percentage of pointless working age means tested cash transfers.
Fulfilment jobs are notoriously bad, bring on automation there :-)"

No, it isn't a positive. It's only a positive when the machine is better value. If a person costs £10/hr to do a thing and the machine is £10.50, you want the person doing it as it costs £10/hr. If the min wage is raised to £11, the cost is now £10.50/hr.