British supermarket giant faces £4bn pay claim

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British supermarket giant Tesco is facing a bill of £4 billion in what could be the UK’s biggest ever equal pay claim, just weeks after broadcaster BBC faced a gender pay reckoning after exposure of a wide gap in wages for senior journalists. 

Men earn £3 ($4.16) more an hour than women in equivalent roles, they discovered. Thousands of women who work on the Tesco shop floor could receive £20,000 in back pay. Workers in Tesco’s male-dominated distribution centers on the same hours earn over £5,000 a year more.

Women working in stores were generally being paid £8 an hour, while warehouse workers received up to £11 an hour, said solicitor Paula Lee of law firm Leigh Day, which has begun legal proceedings.

“We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid over many years,” she said.

Leigh Day said the underpayment could apply to more than 200,000 employees of Tesco, which is Britain’s biggest retailer with a staff of over 310,000.

‘Veiled threats’ at the BBC

Last month the BBC, the UK’s public service broadcaster, found there was “no evidence of gender bias in pay decision making” in a review, as a pay row at the broadcaster rumbled on and male presenters took pay cuts.

Women at the BBC, in written evidence to MPs, said they faced “veiled threats” when raising the issue of pay inequality based on gender. A statement from 170 BBC women said they have “no confidence” in the review process and and stated that the broadcasting giant had failed to pay men and women equally for equal work.

Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general, said the report “shows that we have real and important issues to tackle.”

“We’re addressing unfairness in individuals’ pay and want to close the gender pay gap and have women in half of our on-air roles by 2020. Those are big, bold commitments I’m really serious about,” said Hall.

The high-profile resignation of Carrie Gracie as China editor earlier in January, and the revelation of the salaries of its top-earning talent last year, has prompted a national debate on gender wage inequality.

Six of the BBC’s most prominent male presenters agreed to take reduced salaries before the BBC revealed today that it is proposing a pay limit.

The BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan said the corporation is debating a pay cap of £320,000 for on-air presenters, editors, and correspondents.

A committee session with MPs was held on January 31 where both Hall and Gracie gave evidence to discuss the action that the corporation is taking to address the gender pay gap.

How it unfolded

Gracie’s resignation as BBC China editor came after she learned she was being paid 50 percent less than two male international editors. This prompted criticism of her employer, then further friction at the national broadcaster and beyond.

But the long-running debate on BBC pay started last summer when it revealed for the first time the salaries of its highest paid employees in an annual report in July. Two-thirds of its presenters earning over £150,000 were men.

The BBC said presenters Huw Edwards, Nicky Campbell, John Humphrys, Jon Sopel, Nick Robinson, and Jeremy Vine have all accepted reduced wages. It has not been disclosed whether the presenters took a pay cut voluntarily or at the BBC’s request.

Humphrys, a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s popular Today program who was earning between £600,000 and £649,999 in 2016-17, said it was “fair” for him to take a pay cut. “[The BBC] no longer has an awful lot of money. I was earning a lot of money and it seemed entirely proper to me that I should take a few pay cuts,” said Humphrys.

Pay inequality under fire across the nation

The governmental equality watchdog said it would write to the BBC to determine whether further action was required, saying in a statement that women have a “legal right to equal pay with men for equal work.”

But the BBC is not the only company under scrutiny for pay inequality.

The CEO of airline firm Easyjet will take a pay cut to match the pay of his female predecessor as the firm announced a 52 percent pay gap between the average male and female employee (Financial Times). However the airline said the gender pay gap was driven by an imbalance between the number of male and female pilots across the industry, and the “deep seated view in society that being a pilot is a male job.”

UK companies with 250 or more workers have to publish their wage figures by April 2018 as part of a government initiative to hold employers accountable. More than 700 Britain-based firms have revealed their pay figures so far. Some of those published revealed imbalances between men and women at every tier.

Women earned as little as half per hour than men at Easyjet, 33 percent less at Virgin Money, and 15 percent less per hour at betting shop Ladbrokes. All three companies said they paid both men and women the same amount when doing the same job.

The firm to publish the biggest gender pay gap by January was women’s fashion brand Phase Eight, reports the BBC. There, female staff received a 64.8 percent less mean hourly rate than men. But the chain’s chief executive Benjamin Barnett said the number wasn’t a reflection of the “true story” of the business, in which most male employees work in head office, and female employees in store.

In an analysis of the pay gap data submitted to the government, the Financial Times found the reported numbers of 16 companies “statistically improbable and therefore almost certainly inaccurate.” The cluster of companies in question reported no gender pay gap measured by both the mean and median.

In an interview with the FT, economics professor Jonathan Portes said that while it was not impossible for a company to have no pay gap, “common sense dictates that it is entirely implausible.” One of those companies was Hugo Boss, which the FT claims changed its official submission after it flagged that its results were unusual.

This is an emerging story which needs expansion if you wish to EDIT to add information or discuss it in TALK.

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