Nearly 100 Tesco employees have launched a group claim asserting that female shopfloor workers earn up to £3 an hour less than male warehouse staff, which - if successful - could lead to up to 200,000 of Tesco's employees receiving back pay totalling £20,000 per person, according to law firm Leigh Day, their representative. The firm contends that female shop-floor workers are unfairly paid less than their male counterparts in warehouses and says more than 200,000 workers could be entitled to compensation.
The firm said it was working as well on claims at rivals to Tesco such as Sainsbury's and Asda, which is Walmart's British arm.
"We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received", a company spokeswoman said.
The disparity could see a distribution worker who is full time earning more than £100 per week or £5,000 per year more than female staff at stores.
The most common rate for women is £8 an hour.
The case, also brought through Leigh Day, focused on around £100m in back payments stretching back to 2002. In a separate development, the latest industry data revealed that Britain's biggest supermarket had remained the fastest growing of the UK's "Big Four" grocers in the 12 weeks to January 28.
Responding to the claim, Tesco said that all their staff are able to progress equally and are paid fairly, regardless of their gender or background. Amid a shift to online shopping and warehouse automation there was a 3.9 per cent drop in the number of hours worked in the United Kingdom retail industry in the fourth quarter, according to the British Retail Consortium. The likes of Tesco have borne the brunt of recent increases in the UK's minimum wage, as well as cost increases stemming from the fall in the pound after the country's vote to leave the European Union.
Tesco could face a £4bn hit if the claims are successful. In October 2016, Manchester Employment Tribunal ruled that female employees in Asda's supermarkets could compare themselves to male staff who worked in the retailer's distribution centres.
As part of the consultation, which is due to close in May, the government will consider whether new legislation is needed to make it easier to differentiate between employment categories, affecting rights and tax obligations.
"Tesco's market cap is around £16bn with underlying profits a year ago of £1.2bn, so a £4bn bill would be significant". About 1,000 workers are involved in the Sainsbury's action. "Because multiple jobs are being compared this will be a complicated exercise", he said.