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09 February 2018, 02:08 | Kenneth Drake
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Kim Element says the men's and women's jobs are of"equal value
The company is taking action against the supermarket giant on behalf of the staff, who claim male warehouse workers were paid substantially more than them. A victory against Britain's biggest private sector employer could set a precedent for scores of other retailers, sparking demands for billions of pounds more in back pay.
Legal proceedings have begun in the first equal pay claims against Tesco in what could become the largest ever equal pay challenge in United Kingdom history, which could cost the retail giant £4 billion to compensate workers.
It is thought the underpayment could apply to around 200,000 workers, who might be owed £20,000 each.
The law firm said it had been approached by more than 1,000 employees and ex-employees of the supermarket.
Lawyers argue those working in the predominantly male dominated distribution centres are paid considerably more than the largely female staffed Tesco stores, and may earn in excess of £11 an hour, compared to the average store staff earning around £8 per hour.
Tesco is one of the largest retailers in Britain, hosting 79 million shopping trips a week across its 6,809 stores.
"We are unable to comment on a claim that we have not received", a company spokeswoman said.
Initial claims have been lodged with the conciliation service, ACAS - the first stage in what is likely to be a lengthy legal process through the employment tribunal system which could last several years.
"We believe an inherent bias has allowed store workers to be underpaid for many years", said Leigh Day'sPaula Lee.
"The law has been there since 1984 - you can compare with a different job", she explained. Of Tesco's lowest paid workers 62 per cent are women, but only 41 per cent of its highest earners are female.
A Tesco spokesman said: "We work hard to make sure all our colleagues are paid..."
The law firm said it was also working on claims at supermarket rivals Sainsbury's and Asda, the British arm of Walmart.
Many in the gig economy, where people tend to work for multiple firms without fixed contracts, operate on a self-employed basis, entitling them to only basic protections such as health and safety.
It comes after a review by the chief executive of The Royal Society of Arts Matthew Taylor said a year ago that many Britons working for firms in the gig economy deserved more entitlements.
"What we needed to see was a serious extension of rights to workers and a serious proposal on government enforcement of employment law, not just a consultation on the topic".
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