Next staff secure significant victory in equal pay battle
The three women at the lead of an equal pay battle against Next have won the right to take their case onto the final stage.
More than 2000 current or former sales consultants for Next argued they were paid less than their mostly male warehouse colleagues, in a legal battle which began in May 2018.
The Employment Tribunal in Leeds ruled yesterday (22 May) that the three women – who acted as lead claimants for the sales consultants involved in the action – did work what was an equal value job to their counterparts employees in the warehouse role.
Factors in this case included the physical skill and effort of each job, knowledge needed, and how demanding working conditions are.
The equal pay hearing is being conducted in three stages: firstly, the claimants must prove that they have the legal right to compare their store roles to warehouse roles, which the staff won in August 2021. The second stage is that the claimants must prove that the roles are of equal value to their comparator.
As Next staff have been successful in both stages, the retailer must now provide evidence to justify why the jobs should not be paid equally, which is known as the material factor defence. The hearing is likely to take place in March 2024.
Next employs more than 15,000 sales consultants across its 400 plus stores in the UK. As the number of current and former sales consultants joining the legal claim increases week on week, the retailer could potentially be facing a compensation of “tens of millions” if the staff win the case, according to law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the shop workers.
The store staff will be entitled to receive the difference in their pay and the warehouse operatives’ pay backdated – for up to six years from when they started their claims and until the case ends – if they succeed.
Elizabeth George said: “We are delighted that our Next clients have won this crucial battle. It is a legal win, obviously, but it means a great deal more than that to the people bringing these claims. The sales consultants, overwhelmingly women, had been told by Next that their work is not as demanding as the warehouse operative’s work and so does not attract equal pay and other benefits currently denied to them.
“Independent Job Experts appointed by the Employment Tribunal to compare the roles have found, unanimously, that the work is equal. The experts’ conclusions were emphatic, and the tribunal has agreed with them. The end is now in sight for the sales consultants after a battle lasting five years.”
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