Asda is at risk of facing the largest number of claims for equal pay ever faced by the private sector.

Tens of thousands of shelf stackers employed by Asda allege their work is of equal value to warehouse operatives who are paid more. Shelf stacking, a predominantly female role, is alleged to be of equal value to warehouse work, a predominantly male role. The workers claim that the demands of shelf stacking are the same as warehousing – albeit done in reverse. At the warehouse, items are taken off shelves, put into pallets and loaded on to lorries. At the supermarket, pallets are loaded off lorries, items are taken out of pallets and put on to shelves.

Asda may have a number of possible defences open to them: that the work is not like work or work of equal value; that additional demands were placed upon the warehouse operatives, e.g. hours and conditions of work; that the sex taint is missing – that there is no disparate impact on women.

Of course the no-win, no-fee lawyers will not just have Asda and other supermarket chains in their sights. Any large organisation with a tendency towards gender-specific roles is at risk. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the gender pay gap in the financial services sector is twice the national average. Couple that with marked occupational segregation on gender lines, and the banks too are at risk of the same claims.